Kellen Winslow Sr. changed football dramatically, or at least help establish a direction for the game, in his senior season at Missouri.
A tight end two-to-three decades ahead of his time, Winslow set the standard for pass-catchers at the position. Stars like Miami’s Jeremy Shockey and his son, Kellen Winslow II; UCLA’s Marcedes Lewis; Arizona’s Rob Gronkowski; the litany of Stanford targets; all owe a debt to Kellen Winslow Sr. for establishing the template.
Winslow won consensus All-American recognition in 1978 after catching six touchdowns, and 29 total passes for 479 yards. One touchdown in particular, however, became a catalyst to an outcome that helped alter the direction of college football as a whole in the years to follow.
The 1978 season ranks among the most chaotic in the sport’s history, and arguably planted the first seeds that sprouted the Bowl Alliance in the mid-1990s, which evolved into the BCS, which of course gave rise to the College Football Playoff.
CFB Huddle’s Throwback Thursday on June 9 covers the 1978 season in greater depth, but consider this a sneak preview.
The chaos the conclusion of the 1978 season bore may not have been were it not for a 14-yard Winslow touchdown reception, and another grab of 33 yards, when Missouri traveled to Lincoln to face Nebraska that November.
The Cornhuskers were ranked second in the nation and already bound for the Orange Bowl, but showed no sign of resting on their accomplishments in the regular-season finale, building a 17-7 lead early against the Tigers.
Missouri desperately needed a score or risked letting the game get away early. The Tiger defense struggled to contain Nebraska running back Rick Berns, whose 255 yards set what was then a Cornhusker single-game rushing record.
Giving Nebraska the ball back to fall behind three scores surely would have ended Missouri’s upset bid, but a 73-yard drive ended with Winslow’s 14-yard touchdown catch, turning a 10-point deficit into three.
The story of the day for Mizzou is another Tiger whose son went on to success in the college game: James Wilder Sr.
Wilder’s son, James Jr., played a role in Florida State’s national title 35 years later.
James Wilder Sr. never won a national championship, but he figured prominently into deciding one in 1978. His four touchdowns paced Missouri in its 35-31 upset of the Huskers.
The fourth, final and decisive score came as a result of a Kellen Winslow reception.
Winslow tallied 33 of his 132 yards on the game, hauling in a pass from Phil Bradley, which helped set up Wilder’s game-winning, four-yard score.
The result set in motion a wild few weeks in college football that remain some of the most controversial in the game’s history. Stay tuned for more on that later in the next.