Winslow detests the dumb jock image that goes with his size and profession, mainly because it clashes with the egghead image he pursued at East St. Louis High. A star member of the chess club, he played no sports until his senior year (except for baseball as a sophomore), curried his teachers' favor, lived for geography and history classes, and cut a social swath so narrow that "nobody even knew I existed." At the University of Missouri, where he was a consensus All-America, he kept up the bookwork by majoring in counseling psychology, a field in which he plans to earn his doctorate after football.
But if Winslow was, in his own words, "a nice quiet kid, a nerd" in high school, with his CHESS NUTS T shirt and after-school job at United Parcel Service, he was also a classic late bloomer. Cornelius Perry, Winslow's phys ed teacher and the East St. Louis football coach, made it his project to get Winslow into pads. "He was a natural athlete, that was easy to see," says Perry, now a counselor at the school, "but he lacked confidence. I had to make him see that there were better things ahead." What Perry did was scratch Winslow's then well-hidden pride. "He generated in me the feeling that I wanted to be known as more than just Donna Winslow's little brother, which was all I was then," says Winslow.
The 1974 East St. Louis football team, with Winslow as its novice senior tight end, went undefeated in the regular season and finished second in the state, losing the championship game in overtime to Glenbrook North, a suburban Chicago school. East St. Louis had a chance to win in regulation time, but Winslow dropped two last-second passes. As new to pressure as he was to defeat, Winslow cried bitterly in the locker room.
In the state outdoor track meet in 1975, Winslow, again participating in a new sport, was a favorite to win the discus, but he failed even to make the finals. "I saw all the people along the boundaries and I choked," he says. The day after the track meet, he was in a car accident in which he sustained several facial injuries and nearly lost his left eye. The eye healed. Had it not, Winslow's athletic and emotional development would have been arrested at an especially untimely point. Even now Winslow is still coming out of the shell that nearly had him "going to a junior college in St. Louis and throwing my life into UPS."
"I honestly didn't expect him to be this good so quickly," says Perry, noting that Winslow has played only eight years of football, the same amount as some high school seniors. Winslow isn't exactly cocky these days, but the pride is more up front and the resolution firm. He'll says such things as, "I absolutely refuse to be pushed around on the field," or "I think I can be as good as I want to be," and mean them. Every great performance he has—such as the NFL record-tying five touchdowns he caught against Oakland last November—puts his psyche more in sync with his talents and the responsibilities that go with them.
"He's bright, competitive and just egotistical enough to want to be the best," says Fouts. "And he's just blossoming."
One of the luckiest things that ever happened to Clark was to have Quarterback Steve Fuller as his college teammate and friend. Fuller, a 1979 first-round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs, didn't throw Clark a lot of passes at Clemson. The 49ers' 1981 press guide shows Clark with 55 collegiate receptions for 845 yards, figures Clark contests, saying, "I know I caught fewer than 40." He's right. He actually caught 33 passes for 571 yards. But Fuller did shed some light on his good buddy. When NFL scouts came to assess Fuller's arm in tryouts, Fuller always chose Clark as his target.
Walsh showed up in the spring of 1979 looking for a quarterback (he would end up taking Notre Dame's Montana in the third round) and, if any were about, a receiver "in the Chip Myers style." Walsh, then an assistant to Paul Brown, had coached the tall, sturdy, sure-handed Myers in Cincinnati in the early '70s. "We needed a man like Chip because a lot of plays I use had been designed for him," says Walsh. "It didn't have to be a huge man, but it had to be somebody who was very smart, had stamina, could adjust patterns, deal with linebackers and concentrate in traffic."
Enter Clark, direct from an 11-catch senior season and subsequent surgery on his left shoulder. He caught all of Fuller's passes that day, and Walsh went away thinking he'd found a sleeper.
The 49ers took Clark in the 10th round and used his rookie season to sand off rough edges. He was awkward—"He'd attack the ball and make an easy catch look hard," says Wyche—but determined and tough. Indeed, Clark's harassment of defenders has become one of his greatest assets. "Suppose there's a play-action fake in our backfield, and on the previous running play this big guy had knocked the crap out of the defensive back," says Wyche. "That back gives a bigger cushion now, which gives Dwight more room to maneuver."