Teammates Remember Winston Hill As A Hall Of Fame Player And Man
Halfway through the second quarter of Super Bowl III, the New York Jets were in their offensive huddle when Winston Hill spoke up. It was simple and clear direction from, the likes of which his teammates on the field that day will never forget.
A moment, those in the huddle at the Orange Bowl that afternoon, remember as being typical of Hill. A moment, they say, that underscored why his selection last week to the Centennial Slate of inductees to the Pro Football Hall of Fame is long overdue.
To rewind a bit, the Jets offensive line had been shuffled the week before in the lead-up prior to the Championship Game against the Oakland Raiders. Weeb Ewbank, the Jets head coach, saw deficiencies and moved around the personnel, including three positional switches.
The alignment and switches resulted in a dominant offensive line performance over the Indianapolis Colts as the Jets ground out a 16-7 win. Behind 121 rushing yards on 30 carries by Matt Snell, the Jets simply overpowered the Colts in what is still the franchise’s only Super Bowl triumph to date.
Hill, his teammates will say, was the true standout of the game. He simply overmatched Ordell Braase, the Colts defensive end who had made the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons.
“He owned Ordell Braase, Ordell Braase retired after that game,” said center John Schmitt.
“He looked at us and said ‘I’m going to take him to the right guys, you take it to the left. I’m going to take him to the left guys, you run it to the right.’ And he did.
“In a game like that, against a team like that, it was just unbelievable. In those days, it was great because you could play with the same line for five or six years, and we did. That line that day, did not play together [before]. And we made those switches the week before, it was no big deal. No big deal. In reality, it’s a big deal…Bill said to Snell ‘Run here’ and he did.”
The result of Hill’s sheer dominance is the fabled ’19 Straight,’ the Jets famed play that they ran repeatedly at the Colts. Their opponent knew it was coming and the Jets simply dared them to stop the run.
Baltimore couldn’t match the Jets physicality at the line, as epitomized by Hill’s career performance.
Hill is among one of 15 honorees named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a group that will be inducted this August in Canton, OH. He spent 15 years in the NFL, all but one of which was with the Jets. Four times selected to the Pro Bowl, was often over-looked on a team filled with superstars and big names.
In 2016 at 76-years old, Hill passed away. The Pro Football Hall of Fame honor came too late for Hill to see during his lifetime, but the recognition is nevertheless deserved. Those who played with him are all too eager to recall a giant of a man.
His life is marked beyond the football field. His teammates rave about him as a player and as a person. Then a rookie, Greg Buttle played just a single season with Hill in 1976 but calls him “a Hall of Fame gentleman.”
Nearly all who played alongside him speak of a man who was more than dominant as an athlete.
“Winston was a large man however it was his kindness and smile that would fill the room”, said Mike Stromberg Super Bowl III teammate.
On the field, Hill was ahead of his time. He was an athletic specimen who moved with ease down the field, despite his strength and size.
He was also reliable and dependent, making 174 consecutive starts in an era where athletic training and medical treatment paled in comparison to the technology of today.
Why and how he has been shut out of Canton until now puzzles his contemporaries.
“Twenty years overdue, I don’t know why he didn’t get the recognition he should have,” Schmitt said.
“He played 15, 16 years. He played right tackle, left tackle. He even backed me up at center if I got hurt. He was just a great player.”
Hill was the consummate leader on the Jets, a man who led the team in prayer as their “spiritual leader. Those who didn’t play with him were still touched by his life.
Wesley Walker remembers being at a Jets game a few years ago, before Hill had passed away. Both men, members of the team’s Ring of Honor, were on hand to welcome the next group of inductees. Walker and Hill had both recently had surgery and were on crutches. In order to be honored on the field, the two were taken in a cart along the sideline to be honored. They both sat on the back of this cart, clutching their crutches. Walker says they laughed the entire time.
He has a picture of the moment in his office, showing the two men being carted onto the field, laughing about something. That, Walker says, is what made Hill so special.
Simply, that he enjoyed every moment, even if it was on the back of a cart.
Although they never played together, Walker and Hill became fast friend. Their bond was formed not in a locker room but instead as fellow Jets alumni. The two began to mingle at team events following their playing days. They went from speaking a few words together to eventually sharing a special bond. They would call each other often before Hill passed away a few years ago.
“I can’t think of a guy of his stature who was such a teddy bear,” the now 64-year old Walker said.
“A leader. A father of whom who his children were very proud, the same way I feel about my own father.
“We would have gatherings for these alumni. With his wife and him, we just hit it off. And when his wife passed away, he’d have his daughter with him. He’d always talk about his wife and the relationship they had. It hurt him. He ended up getting sick a couple of years. He was always down to earth. I just loved being with him.”