"Winston Hill is one of the finest men I've ever met in my life. Good Lord. He was just wonderful. Without him, or with a lesser effort by anyone in that position, we wouldn’t have been able to win the championship.”
Winston Hill played for the New York Jets for 14 seasons. When anyone asks me what type of Jets player do I like, I always answer the same way: I love players that play hard and stay on the field. Players, especially offensive linemen who stay on the field like Brandon Moore, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Winston Hill are my kind of guys! They rarely miss games. And as for playing hard, Hill checks that box also. When a player comes out of college, an organization never knows what the physical and mental make-up of that player is. Does that player have desire? Will he last more than two or three years? Does he recover from minor injuries quickly and will he play a little bit hurt? Winston Hill was one of those rare breeds that prided himself on being ready to play trying to never take a play or a week off. In fact he played in 195 consecutive games during his career.
Winston Hill was born on October 23 1941, in Joaquin Texas, a city in northeastern Shelby County. When he was child, some schools were still segregated. He would stand on one side of a fence, watching the white kids playing football and wondered why his black school didn’t have a team. His father, Garfield Hill happened to be the principle of that school and mainly because Winston was so intrigued with the sport, a team was started at Weldon High School. Besides playing football, his athleticism was so good, even for a big man, that he took up tennis. He played on the high school tennis team and excelled at the game, winning a championship.
After high school, he went to college at Texas Southern University. He played on both the offensive and defensive line. He excelled at both and became a star during the 1959-1962 seasons. He earned All-Southwestern Athletic Conference honors three of his four seasons. He was later inducted into the school’s hall of fame. By the time he left college, Hill measured 6’ 4”, 270 pounds, which was big for that era. He was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in the 11th round in 1963, but he signed with the Jets as a free agent. The Jets were in the midst of a great transition moving into She Stadium and drafting Joe Namath.
Winston Hill became a staple of the Jets offensive line whose job it was to keep a talented but bad kneed Joe Namath upright so he could do his thing. Hill possessed a combination of size, durability, strength and technique. This helped him become one of the most dominant tackles in the AFL. He was especially known for his pass blocking and sacks were a rare occurrence on his side of the line. His teammates loved him on and off the field. He rarely needed help to double team a defensive lineman and this gave more flexibility to the rest of the offensive linemen. He was the main cog on the offensive line in 1967, the year Joe Namath became the first quarterback to pass for over 4,000 yards.
"There wasn't anybody he couldn't handle, He could play any position on the line and play it well. He was the greatest pass-blocker you could find. Having the quick feet from tennis helped him a lot. He was able to move so unbelievably well, but he was very strong.”
-Former Jets C John Schmitt
In 1968, the Jets made their famous Super Bowl run, winning the game on January 12, 1969. Hill played left tackle protecting Namath’s blind side. Everyone marvels at how well the Jets quarterback played, but it was also the running of Matt Snell who rushed for over 100 yards that was another key to the game. Snell scored the Jets only touchdown on a run on the side of guess who-Winston Hill. If an offensive lineman was in contention for the game MVP, Hill would have to be considered. That game not only changed football but changed sports as it is today.
The following year Hill helped the Jets win their second division title in a row. The team lost to the eventual Super Bowl winning Kansas City Chiefs. Hill continued to play at a very high level for the next few years. He ended his Jets tenure in 1976 and a capped off a wonderful professional career with the Los Angeles Rams in 1977.
Winston Hill’s NFL resume speaks for itself. At the time of his retirement, Hill held Jets’ records for most consecutive career games (195) and consecutive starts (174). He was named All-Pro and All-AFL in 1969, Second-Team All-AFL three times and Second-Team All-NFL three times. Additionally, Hill received All-AFC honors five straight seasons (1970-74), was voted to the first AFL All-Star Game during his second season, elected to eight AFL All-Star Games/Pro Bowls (five as left tackle, three at right tackle) and named to the All-Time AFL Team (Second Team). He was eventually named part of the Jets' inaugural Ring of Honor Class at Met Life Stadium in 2010.
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When you play on the offensive line in the NFL, your name or uniform number is recognized more when you make a mistake such as a holding or an offsides penalty than when you play well. Too many times you are taken for granted. You very rarely heard Winston Hill’s name throughout the games he played in. I remember as a Jets fan how well Matt Snell and Emerson Boozer ran the ball behind Hill. But if I had to pick one aspect of Hill’s game it would be his pass blocking. He was like an immovable wall who played like he was a running back with his quick feet. Very few played the game harder than Winston Hill and fewer showed the durability he showed. He was one heck of a football player and John Schmitt was right, there wasn’t anybody he couldn’t block! Winston Hill died on April 26, 2016 and was posthumously elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2020.
Marty Schupak has been a New York Jets football fan since 1964. Ray Clifford another lifelong fan contributed to this article. Their blog and Podcast are both at: www.JetsRewind.com
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