Perhaps the toughest question San Diego's Kellen Winslow and San Francisco's Dwight Clark raise for NFL observers is this: Which would you rather be, an "All-Universe" receiver or a receiver whose girlfriend is Miss Universe?
The question, of course, isn't entirely fair. Winslow, the Chargers' 6'5½", 242-pound "All-Universe" tight end—as decreed by ABC's Monday Night Football announcers—lives with a very pretty woman, too, his bride of eight months, Katrina McKnight Winslow. And Clark, who keeps company with Shawn Weatherly, Miss Universe 1980—as decreed by a panel of international judges in Seoul, South Korea—is something of a receiver himself.
Indeed, last year Clark and Winslow became the second and third pros ever to catch 80 or more passes in two consecutive seasons. Clark had 82 in 1980 and 85 in '81; Winslow had 89 and 88 in those years. Only the Denver Broncos' Lionel Taylor, with 92 receptions in 1960 and 100 in '61, caught more in a two-year stretch, and his record was set in the infancy of the AFL, when that league was an aerial circus.
At least as important as the number of passes Winslow and Clark catch—excluding running backs, they were one-two in receptions in the NFL the past two seasons—is the manner in which they are deployed in the league's two most intriguing passing attacks. Winslow is called a tight end, but that's misleading. Lining up much of the time as a wingback, fullback or wide receiver instead of as a tight end, and then, as often as not, going into motion before the snap, Winslow has created a hybrid football position. "If you have to label what I am, just call it receiver," he says.
Clark, too, moves freely about in the 49ers' offense. At 6'4" and 210 pounds, he's bigger than almost any other NFL wide receiver and rugged enough to play tight end and block on the goal line. He's quick enough to run the end-around and skilled enough to throw a pass off that play, which he did once last year. Most important, he performs for an offensive wizard of a coach. Bill Walsh. "It would be difficult to misuse Kellen Winslow's talents," says Chicago Bear All-Pro Safety Gary Fencik. "But Dwight Clark doesn't have the assets of a first-round pick. He's an overachiever, and he happens to be in the right place at the right time. When we play the 49ers, my computer inside goes berserk because their offense is so unpredictable."
Both Clark and Winslow were born in 1957, drive Mercedes and are entering their fourth year in the NFL. They both have sung in pop bands and own huge TVs, and when they met at this year's Pro Bowl, they found they liked each other. One day not long ago Clark sat with Weatherly at a seafood restaurant on San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf. After a few minutes he looked up from his menu and declared, "Clam chowder, Journey [a rock group] and Kellen Winslow—that's what I love."
Winslow admires Clark's soft hands, aggressiveness and total concentration afield. "As players, Dwight and I are a lot alike," says Winslow. "We may not be great in any one area, but we're not lousy in any either. What we have to offer is the total package."
It was during the playoffs last season that the two total packages burst open and showed national TV audiences what makes them pro football's top two receivers. Winslow's and Clark's transcendent moments are now referred to, simply and rather banally, as The Game and The Catch, respectively. On consecutive weekends, Winslow and then Clark displayed character, skill and the sort of unthinking, physical adaptiveness we like to call grace. In the process they thrilled us as no one else in the NFL did last season.
The air in the Orange Bowl at the start of the Miami-San Diego AFC divisional playoff game last January was 79°, still and humid. Winslow is a heavy perspirer under normal conditions, but on the floor of the Orange Bowl he was excreting fluids like a fountain. By the second quarter he was spending all of his time between offensive series drinking water, and by the third quarter he was sucking oxygen from a tank behind the bench. At half-time he considered changing into a dry T shirt and jersey, but didn't. "I was too tired," he says.