Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow talks NFL draft, CTE, and ‘catch rule‘

When Pro Football Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow was drafted with the 13th selection by the San Diego Chargers in the 1979 NFL draft, he set an early mold for tight ends of today.

The athletic-6-foot-5 Winslow, who only played football in his senior year of high school, went on to Missouri before a nine-year career with the Chargers.

He was a five-time Pro-Bowl selection, four-time All-Pro and recorded more than 6,700 receiver yards and 45 touchdowns in 109 games.

Winslow was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995 and later became a member of the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame, NFL‘s 75th anniversary all-time team and NFL‘s 1980s All-Decade team.


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What do you remember most about the 1979 draft?

My phone went out the night before and it made it very difficult to find out. I had one of those draft experiences where experts said I was going very high in the draft like the third or fourth player, but that was very unusual for tight ends. I don’t think that had ever happened. I ended up falling down the board to the 13th pick. The Chargers made a trade with the Cleveland Browns for the 13th pick and San Diego gave up their 20th and their pick in the second round to move up seven spots and draft me. It worked out great. Some times you wondered why these things happen. I could’ve been drafted by Kansas City twice, Cincinnati twice, Chicago twice or Buffalo twice so it worked out being in San Diego.

The draft is not the fashion show it is today. What did you wear?

In 1979, ESPN had just started and cable TV was just becoming well distributed across the country. In 1979, when I was drafted, I got it via radio and my phone went out the night before. When it went out, we went down to the local newspaper and got it off the tele-type that I had been drafted by the Chargers, that’s how old I am.

Before the draft, which team did you think would select you?

You didn’t have that type of constant information about the draft. Teams would come by and work you out. Some would give you a pen to fill out the application that you could keep. I kept a pen from the Dallas Cowboys and gave it to my father and he still has it to this day. Those are the type of things you remember. They would come in, work you out and then move on to another school.

What was first NFL paycheck and what did you purchase?

My signing bonus was $150,000. After all the agency fees, I think I ended up netting about $80,000 of that. I don’t remember my first purchase, it might have been a washer and dryer.

The NFL draft has moved around in recent years. Is this a good thing?

It’s a very good thing. I think the league is smart to do that. Any time you can go out to your partners and support your partners, in this case the teams themselves, you get a chance to support what they’re doing.

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The draft is seven rounds now, should it be shorten or extended?

Seven rounds is just about right and that’s great for the free agency negotiations where you free up some talent. I think it’s a good balance the way they’ve worked out.

What are your thoughts about players leaving college early for the NFL?

I have no problem with that whatsoever. It’s a job. You go to college to get a job and when you get a job especially one that pays well, it’s a good thing to do. It’s not very bright to pass that job up. If you want to go back and get your degree, I encourage people to do that.

What are your thoughts on CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) and do you have any symptoms?

I don’t think I have any symptoms. My career is a little bit different than most. I didn’t play organized tackle football when I was younger. I played 14 years of football in my life, and nine of those were in the NFL – one year of high school and four years in college. One of the big things about CTE that we’re going to find in every industry we have whether the military or athletics is the totality of the hits you take to the head. Whether it’s head slapping or head butting, when you combine that with the hits you take on the field, you’re going to have normal people with those situations with CTE. As we see CTE go down in numbers in the next couple generations, it’s because we’ve limited in practice. It’s a smart thing to do.

What‘s your thoughts on the new “catch rule?”

I think it’s a good thing. I played the game for awhile, watched it and even did broadcast on the sideline and booth.

The Chargers moved from San Diego to Los Angeles. How do you feel about the franchise moving?

It doesn’t feel right.