Appropriately, senior writer Rick Reilly frames his tribute to the epic 1982 AFC divisional playoff game between the Miami Dolphins and the San Diego Chargers (page 124) around placekicker Rolf Benirschke and tight end Kellen Winslow, the two players who heroically led the Chargers to victory that day. While Reilly briefly explains the link between his and Winslow's families in the story—Rick and his wife, Linda, named their elder son after the Hall of Famer—he didn't write about his connection with the Benirschkes.
Reilly never forgot what he saw on television that day in Denver, where he was a 23-year-old sportswriter for The Denver Post. "I was so inspired by that game," he says, alluding especially to the 24-year-old Winslow's willing of the Chargers to that memorable triumph in the Orange Bowl. "And I always loved the name Kellen." Winslow, a commentator for Fox Sports and the commissioner of the Indoor Football League, couldn't be happier that his name has become so popular. He knows of 130 kids named after him. "There's no greater honor," he says. "It's a family name. My father's grandfather was James Kellen Winslow."
Kellen Jr., a 6'5", 210-pound junior at Scripps Ranch High in San Diego, who was born one year after the Chargers' great victory, is following in his father's cleat marks. He plays almost everywhere on the field—tight end, wide receiver, defensive end, free safety, quarterback, punter and kickoff man. "I think his best position is quarterback," says the elder Kellen, even though his son is the second-stringer at that position. "He could be a bigger Donovan McNabb. But the coaches hear the name Winslow and think tight end."
Since 1982 the Benirschkes have also added to their family. On Nov. 17, 1992, Rolf's wife, Mary, gave birth to their first child, Kari, who was 13 weeks premature and weighed just over two pounds. Doctors told Rolf and Mary that their daughter probably would not survive, but 2� months later, by Super Bowl Sunday of 1993, Kari had made a remarkable recovery and was able to go home. "I never played in a Super Bowl," Rolf says, "but that Super Bowl Sunday is one that I will never forget."
Two years later the Benirschkes made arrangements to adopt a child in Russia. Rolf flew to Kaliningrad to bring home four-year-old Erik. When he arrived he was told that he could take Erik only if he also took his two-year-old brother, Timmy, who was born with a cleft palate and was a malnourished 17 pounds. Unable to contact Mary and under pressure to make a decision, Rolf took a chance and brought both boys home. "We have to remember the importance of second chances," says Rolf, who lives in San Diego and sees Winslow at Chargers alumni events and games. "I look at that Miami game as a metaphor for my life. I got a second chance to kick that field goal in overtime. Most kickers don't."
Like the Benirschkes, the Reillys have adopted a child. Their daughter Rae, 10, is from South Korea. "Linda and I believe that we should only replace ourselves, but we also wanted more kids," says Rick. "We had two boys [Kellen, now 14, and Jake, 12], and we just had to have a girl."
Now Rick has another new baby, one that weighs about two pounds and began appearing in bookstores last week: Slo-Mo: My Untold Story. It's his second novel, a jockography set during the rookie year of 7'8" NBA phenom Maurice (Slo-Mo) Finsternick. Real-life NBA personalities such as Charles Barkley, Phil Jackson, Ahmad Rashad and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf somehow find their way into the 293 pages. "It was so much fun," Reilly says of writing the novel. "You can totally make up quotes. And I got to make fun of Rashad, which was really a blast."