By Dr. Ken 

When entering the New York Jets locker room, one could not miss Winston Hill. Although large for his era at 6’4” and 270 pounds, there were many other National Football League linemen just as big or bigger. Yet Hill filled a room with both his physical size and the manner in which he carried himself. Sadly, like so many of his football contemporaries, he passed away this past April 26th at the age of seventy-four. Among the many individuals the author has met or spent time with, Hill was among the most memorable.

The author’s personal circumstances were at one time, similar to many young people who have family responsibilities while pursuing an education. Concurrent employment in a number of disparate areas and school attendance required time and effort which led to eventual academic and vocational success. After working as a lumberjack in the Solon, Maine area for a six month period, returning to school to enhance my graduate education did not obviate the need for hard work and a steady income. Thus backstage and travel related security work in the rock and roll industry, iron work, and applying the skills of a line cook, all of which could have qualified as a return to previous vocations, allowed for support of the family and a return to school. The New York Jets, with their training headquarters at Long Island’s Hofstra University placed many of their players in the Point Lookout-Long Beach area I grew up in. In those pre-Yuppie- gentrification-of-Point Lookout days, and while the Jets had no more than a nascent strength and conditioning facility, a number of their players gravitated to our garage gym as well as one of the very few local commercial training facilities nearby. Some of the Jets, with defensive back Phil Wise among them, had an active interest in training and diet.

Phil Wise was an aggressive defensive back for the Jets 1971 through 1976


Phil was a defensive back out of the University of Nebraska Omaha that played rather well for much of his career with the Jets. From 1971, after joining the team as a sixth round draft choice, through ’76, he started in the secondary and played on special teams. Phil completed his NFL career with the Vikings from ’77 through ’79 and remained in the Minneapolis area as a sports radio personality. With the Jets however, he latched onto strength training as a means to improve his game, often teaming up with fellow defensive back Steve Tannen. Wise however, was anxious to mine as much helpful information as possible and that included improving his nutrition. We had numerous conversations relative to dietary intake which led to an attempt to give Phil recipes so that he could cook and bake in a “healthier” manner. It was quickly apparent that this would not work and for a good part of the Jets’ season I would bake low fat yogurt cheesecakes and flourless cakes and bring them to Wise in the Hofstra facility. Making it clear that I was not in the bakery or restaurant business, I was able to deflect the friendly pastry requests by other players but on one occasion, offensive tackle Winston Hill asked to speak to me.

If there was one member of the Jets I was uncomfortable around, it was Hill. One would think that the great Joe Namath would be the Jet that was intimidating to approach, but Joe offered me a ride to Manhattan one day, insisting that I join him in the front seat of his Cadillac so that we could talk. I deferred, feeling that it was inappropriate to sit in the front passenger seat while the much taller Tannen and Wise jammed themselves into the rear seat. Joe immediately put me at ease by saying, “I see you around all the time, you’re the lifting guy. Tell me some things about yourself so I can know you.” This was unexpected yet highly appreciated and Namath’s complete lack of “celebrity” in his private time was revealing and predicted the same type of unpretentious behavior in any other personal encounter or conversation I had with him from that moment forward. Winston Hill however, was always a true presence and despite being reserved, had a quiet strength and dignity about him that was exceptionally powerful and yes, intimidating. I had been told by everyone connected to the team that Hill was “the man,” “definitely a leader,” and the word “great” prefaced many descriptions of the skilled offensive tackle by teammates and coaches, but his palpable aura put me on edge. Wise told me that Hill wanted to talk with me and I almost felt as if I was repeating my frequent trips to the high school principal’s office.



Jets’ offensive tackle Winston Hill had a presence that dwarfed his considerable physical stature

Any concerns I had about Winston Hill were quelled in our first conversation. He had questions about conditioning and what I found in subsequent discussions was a man of deep thought who had lived through what I would have considered a difficult and frightful upbringing. Having hitchhiked from New York to Baton Rouge, Louisiana and working briefly in both the Gulf of Mexico and along the “East Texas Corridor,” I had but a glimpse of the racial divide that existed in the 1960’s and previous decades. Hill grew up in Joaquin, Texas and attended the segregated Weldon High School in Gladewater where his father Garfield was the school principal. Gladewater is approximately twelve miles from Longview, the site of one of the Southwest’s worst race riots. The racially motivated dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper and the racist reputation of so-called “Sundown Towns” like Vidor marked the east Texas region of Winston Hill’s youth. Hill dealt with prejudice by doing his best, by excelling, and by taking on every challenge with dignity and purpose.


As noted by Hill’s long-time friend and Colorado Congressman Ken Buck, “Growing up as a black person in East Texas in the 1940s and 1950s could destroy a young man's self-confidence and optimism, and even limit his achievements in life. But my friend Winston Hill never let racism, bigotry or adversity stand in his way. With the support of his family, his faith and his friends, Winston wouldn't allow the world to tell him who he could or couldn't be.”  Buck also stated, “It would be understandable if the bitter taste of childhood racism and alienation made Winston a harsh, unforgiving adult. Instead, he embodied kindness, forgiveness and humility — the man was fundamentally selfless. He never had a bad thing to say about anyone…” Tennis became an interest and he worked hard to become a star athlete on the courts. With size, strength, and terrific footwork, however, football seemed like a natural avenue to success.

The absence of a youth football program due to segregation and Winston’s desire to play pushed his father to start a team and Hill overcame his asthma and a heart defect to become an outstanding player at Weldon High School. With segregation again allowing for limited options in the South and Southwest, Hill accepted a scholarship offer from historically Black Texas Southern University in Houston and entered as a member of the freshmen team of 1959. His understated toughness, intelligence, and willingness to work hard enough to do everything as well as possible as a two-way linemen, led to NAIA All American and All Southwest Athletic Conference honors. He was drafted in the eleventh round of the 1963 draft by the Baltimore Colts but released in the pre-season. With former Colts head coach Weeb Eubank the new mentor of the remodeled New York Jets, Hill was yet another of a number of “former Colts” that were embraced by the previous Titans team that was being rebuilt in Eubanks’ image.


 Winston Hill earned his place on the Jets roster with ability to play center and both offensive tackle positions. Most often noted as “Namath’s Bodyguard,” the versatile Hill possessed great athletic ability

In 1964 Hill established himself as a full time starter and in the early part of his career primarily manned the left offensive tackle position while serving occasional duty as center. He was agile and strong enough to play any of the offensive line positions and his proficiency was rapidly noticed. In 1965 with the arrival of quarterback Joe Namath, Winston was noticed enough to be an American Football League All Star and from 1967 through ’73, he was named to either an AFL All Star or NFL Pro Bowl squad. His superior play in the AFL found him named to the All Time AFL Second Team. He was almost immediately recognized as a gifted pass blocker and with the famous Namath to protect, perhaps it was assumed that this was his primary focus. Jets fullback Matt Snell stated that Hill was “so graceful, so beautiful to watch. Took them just where he wanted them (defensive linemen) to go. Never seemed like he was exerting himself that much.” Although his initial recognition came as one of the best pass blockers in the league, he utilized his great strength as a dependable run blocking lineman also, and of course received that delayed recognition after the Jets Super Bowl upset of the Colts that saw Snell gain his primary yardage behind Hill’s left side of the Jets offensive line. “I’ve been telling reporters for a long time that Winston Hill is a great offensive tackle,” victorious coach Weeb Ewbank said after Super Bowl III, “and (in the Super Bowl) he proved it. I mean, when he blocks he doesn’t just a get a stalemate with the guy he’s on. He blows him out.” Hill’s success was very much predicated on the pressure he placed upon himself to improve and learn. In 1971, Hill’s ninth professional season, offensive line coach Wimp Hewgley said, "Winston is a very analytical person, always searching for a better method of doing things.  He's always asking if he's doing the correct thing. If not, he wants to know why. It's the kind of thing you would expect from a rookie, not someone who has been around all these years."



Through his fourteen seasons with the Jets which included his rookie season where he did not step onto the field during a game, Hill compiled a streak of 174 consecutive starts, the tenth longest in pro football history. When Namath went to the Los Angeles Rams for the ’77 season, Hill went with him and they both retired afterwards. Winston Hill could then look back and view a lengthy list of achievement: induction to the Texas Southern Sports Hall Of Fame; selection to four AFL All Star Teams and the Second Team All Time AFL squad; a member of the Jets All Time Four Decade Team and induction to their Ring Of Honor; the Jets retirement of his number 75 jersey.

Despite his robust list of achievements, his proven versatility, and the immense respect given by the peers he confronted throughout his illustrious career, Winston Hill has never been nominated for what many believe to be a rightful and hard-earned place in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame. This oversight has been more pronounced with the recent inductions of players whose career achievements were notably less significant than Hill’s and what appears to be a statistics-driven bias and lack of historical knowledge on the part of Hall Of Fame selectors who are perhaps a bit too young to understand the merits of the game as it was played during Hill’s era. The reader should recall that “Hill’s era” matched him up with Hall Of Fame quality defensive linemen like Deacon Jones, Buck Buchanan, Curley Culp, Elvin Bethea, and the underrated Rich Jackson, while allowing limited use of the hands and arms during blocking encounters. Hall Of Fame coach Bill Parcells perhaps summed it up best when asked to name one candidate who belonged in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame who has not yet been elected, and he immediately named Winston Hill and followed with the statement that “I guess that would be the guy, I just think he’s a heckuva lot better than some of the guys who are in there.”


For those HELMET HUT readers not fortunate enough to observe Hill’s play decades ago, his immense talent will not be fully appreciated. Less known and perhaps less appreciated was his compassion and intelligence. A member of the Fellowship Of Christian Athletes, Winston and I had a number of conversations that encompassed faith, focus, and commitment. We discussed man’s place in the world and purposes that transcended football and sports. He was a “thinking man” with compassion. Knowing I had returned to school in order to enter the health professions, he suggested that I apply for admission to Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. I immediately pointed out that Meharry was a medical school that could be as “historically Black” as any of the historically Black football powers that Hill was so familiar with. He talked about the possibilities of a Caucasian medical student serving the greater good of “opening the doors wider” for inclusiveness while receiving a quality education on scholarship. As usual, he was thinking “for the greater good” and demonstrating a side of his personality that was known to teammates, friends, and family but often lost to the typical fan. Having overcome asthma and “a bad heart” as a youngster, Hill retired to Colorado after leaving the game of football. One of his daughters said, "He had been pushing his heart through high school and throughout his professional career. He had an enlarged heart, but it was also a wonderful heart. His heart was the biggest thing he had." Hill believed that living in Colorado and its higher altitude would assist his heart and lung function in the off-seasons and made it home from 1969 until his death. He operated a barbeque restaurant, allowing him to not only serve highly respected food, but providing the opportunity to share his wisdom and knowledge with everyone that came through the door. He was a coach and mentor for forty-four years at Joe Namath’s annual youth football camp and gave many hours of his time and energy to young people at a local youth center, the Denver Indian Center, and the Boys And Girls Club. For everyone who remembers Winston Hill “The Football Player,” there are many more who remember Winston Hill “The Man” and in every sense of the term, Winston Hill was truly a man.