Walsh unleashed Clark two years ago, and since then he has caught passes in 34 straight games, a 49er record. Critics say Clark doesn't catch the ball upfield enough, but he has gained 2,096 yards the past two seasons and has a career average of 12.6 yards per catch. Mostly there's skepticism that a slowish white wide receiver belongs at all in a game dominated by black burners. Trust Walsh, the man all coaches, pro and college, imitate sooner or later. Clark, he says, is the kind of receiver "most teams don't have and don't realize they need."
Raised in Charlotte, N.C., the son of a bank vice-president and the grandson of a Baptist minister, Clark grew up listening to his grandmother, mother and aunt sing gospel harmony so sweet it made him cry. Clark sang in his own band in high school, doing "Jimi Hendrix and that kind of stuff," but gave it up to concentrate on athletics. A multi-sports star at Garinger High, Clark didn't amount to much at Clemson. He was prepared to pursue a career in coaching, and he'll be the first to tell you his life has had a charmed quality these last few years. "It isn't luck," he says, "but more like fate. I might have had the ability all along, but I didn't know it. Bill Walsh just showed me what to do. I did exactly what he said and it worked."
A cheerful young man with the gustatorial leanings of a Cub Scout, Clark recently went on Bay Area TV and showed viewers how to make banana and mayonnaise sandwiches (good old-fashioned spongy white bread, mayo and sliced bananas). Unfazed by success and the doors to exotic eating it can open, Clark wrote in his 49ers' publicity questionnaire that his favorite restaurant is "Wendy's, everywhere," which is true. At the Super Bowl Clark and Montana skipped a team meal in order to dine at a Wendy's in suburban Detroit, after which Clark described the meal in great detail in a diary that he was writing for the San Francisco Chronicle.
"I've eaten a hamburger a day for 10 years," Clark says. "That should tell you something about me."
At a Mexican restaurant in San Diego, Winslow addresses the board members of the recently formed Kellen Winslow Flag Football League. "I saw some really cute socks today that maybe the kids could wear," he tells the board. "They have these little tassels on the sides." The nine members of the San Diego business community are silent. "Hmm. Well, how about a big patch of blood on everybody's jersey, some red paint to scare parents to death?" Smiles and silence. "Hey, the tassels are detachable," he says. "We are entertainers, you know."
The socks proposal is temporarily shelved, but Winslow, rolling with the punches, stays in control. He's the founder and commissioner of this city-wide league for 7- through 13-year-old boys and girls, and he's good at leading. Authoritative, witty, seldom at a loss for words, he understands that other people will help you if you treat them right. Like teachers, they must be played up to. During the off-season Winslow works as a business officer at the Sun Savings and Loan Association in San Diego, "bringing in money, showing businesses the advantages of using our bank." Everyone agrees that Winslow will be very wealthy someday. But his flag football is nonprofit and emphasizes low-pressure competition, teamwork and fun. "It's something I've been wanting to do for a long time," Winslow says. It's the kind of league he would have played in as a boy.
At an afternoon practice Winslow runs some 9-year-olds through a few simple plays. Periodically he pats one player or another on the head, his hand engulfing the skull as if it were a bean. His voice, so high and soft and unexpected, keeps the boys from being afraid. It's a voice that enabled Winslow to sing the falsetto parts on a rhythm-and-blues album he cut last year with some of his teammates. The group called itself The High Five and was disbanded last May, partly because members John Jefferson and Fred Dean had been traded. Those deals opened Winslow's eyes, made him see the very things he would like to protect his youthful players from. He discovered that the NFL isn't "a big barrel of fun. It's a business that exists to make money, and the players are stock to be bought, sold and traded, the same as on the New York Stock Exchange."
He also discovered that the Super Bowl is about the only thing worth striving for, because it stays with you. The Chargers' 1981 season ended a week after the Miami game, in Cincinnati, on the coldest day recorded there in this century. Counting wind chill, the temperature swing the Chargers experienced between Miami and Cincy was 138°, the greatest one-week disparity for a team in NFL history. Winslow scored San Diego's only touchdown while wearing two pairs of gloves. But the conditions were no consolation for a talented team that many observers feel should have been in the Super Bowl the last three years.
Winslow's development as a pro has also brought him the realization that a team can be no more or less than the sum of its parts. "Even if I catch 20 passes a game," he says, "I can't go to the Super Bowl by myself."