The Chargers raced to a 24-0 first-quarter lead, and it looked as though a rout was on. But in the third quarter the Dolphins tied the score 24-24, and it became clear that the game was turning into a classic and that Winslow was going to be its centerpiece.
In the first half, Winslow had caught five passes for 55 yards, despite blanket coverage. He was getting battered at the line on every play and gang-tackled each time he touched the ball. On one play Miami Safety Glenn Blackwood wrung Winslow's right leg as if it were a drumstick he was trying to rip off a chicken. Another time three defenders pounded Winslow into the ground while a fourth wrenched his face mask, drawing a penalty. The beating was taking its toll. Winslow's forehead was bruised, his right shoulder kept going numb, his lip had a cut that would require four stitches to close. But more than anything, he was exhausted.
"You've got to remember that Kellen's a big man and that we send him in motion a lot of the time," says San Diego Receiver Coach Ernie Zampese. "Against Miami he was often running 30 or 40 yards before the ball was even snapped."
After one block in the third quarter Winslow's shoulder again went dead, and he came to the sideline for assistance. He' had already broken two sets of shoulder pads and now was wearing a set belonging to teammate Hank Bauer. Bauer's hairline is rapidly receding, and Winslow recalls thinking through his pain, "My shoulder will go bald."
Winslow had to be helped to the sideline three times during the game, but each time he returned immediately to catch another pass. "I didn't hesitate to throw to Kellen," says San Diego Quarterback Dan Fouts. "We were all tired, but I have to assume that anybody who's in the huddle with me is ready to go."
In the third quarter Winslow caught a 25-yard touchdown pass to give the Chargers a 31-24 lead. Always exuberant after a score, Winslow this time tried to spike the ball over the goalpost crossbar. He missed and fell down. Soon after, his legs began cramping.
"Mentally I was pretty alert, but physically I was gone," tie says. "I thought I was moving at a good speed when I went in motion, but when I saw the films, I realized I was walking."
The Dolphins eventually tied the game at 38-38, and with only seconds left in regulation time they lined up for what should have been the winning field goal. In desperation Charger Coach Don Coryell sent Winslow into the game. Winslow blocked the kick.
In overtime Winslow searched for the oxygen behind the Chargers' bench. It was gone, removed for unknown reasons by maintenance men. The television audience was treated to closeups of the gasping, grass-stained, soaking wet tight end, and later some viewers would feel they had been given theatrics. "Maybe on TV I looked worse than I really was," says Winslow. "But if I was faking it, I deserve an Academy Award."
When Rolf Benirschke finally kicked the winning field goal for San Diego, Winslow was blocking and didn't see it. He dropped face down on the sod, cramping from neck to calf, "ready to cry." He assumed the Chargers had won only because of the silence in the stadium. A Dolphin asked Winslow if he wanted a hand getting up. Winslow said no thanks and stayed where he was. Eventually, two Chargers helped him off the field. In the locker room, trainers covered him with cold towels to bring down his temperature, which was more than 100°, and Winslow fell asleep for a while. Despite drinking constantly throughout the game, he had lost 12 pounds.