Winslow?'s honor touches Tortora

Winslow?'s honor touches Tortora

NEW HAVEN ?- It began on a weekend like this 25 years ago.

Missouri All-America tight end Kellen Winslow came to New Haven without any preconceived notion ... and left with a lasting friendship.

Twenty five-years later, Ben Tortora, a past president of the Walter Camp Football Foundation and the other half of the friendship, wept as he watched his godchild, Kellen Winslow Jr., make the All-America walk through Yale Commons Saturday to complete the cycle.

It was an emotional night for the two friends from different worlds who bonded on a weekend like this 25 years ago.

"It no longer is just friendship ... it literally materialized into family now," said Tortora of his relationship with Kellen Winslow Sr., and the respective families. "Kellen came here, I believe, for 15 straight years, and on Sunday, when everybody left, Kellen would stay an extra day at my house and it was like a get-together for all of us. We would just hang out and relax because the weekend was so exhausting."

A quarter of a century of memories gushed forth as Winslow Jr. was introduced Saturday night, and Tortora was armed with handkerchiefs and pride.

Tortora talked at length about his godchild and quite frankly, it didn’t sound exactly like the guy we’ve seen, read and heard about at the University of Miami. Winslow Jr. has created a ripple an antagonism with a quick temper on the field and an occasional choice of words that have been thrown back in his face.

But such talk is personal for Tortora, who knows Winslow Jr. like a million college football fans in America do not. Sure there is bias. Kellen Winslow Jr. is family. But Tortora is a straight shooter when it comes to his godchild and what is being said about him.

"He’s a very honest and sincere individual, which I relate to because it’s what I expect from family," Tortora said. "Let’s be honest with each other. If you’re going to put a team together, do you want the guy with the fire in his eyes, who wants the best out of everybody and who gives you his best ... well, give me that guy every day of the week."

Tortora was saying this about a young man who, after a game against Tennessee this past season, not only compared football to war, but said he’s out to "kill" the opposition, because that’s what it’s trying to do to him. "I’m a (expletive) soldier," he said in a statement heard round the college football world.

"That (war) terminology has been used by every head coach, both in college and in the pros," Tortora said. "I don’t think he had any, any intention of comparing himself with any (actual) soldier.

"He’s a very (excitable) young man who wears his heart on his shoulder. He tells people how it is. And I respect that."

Winslow wasn’t holding back much during our conversation Friday either — nor apologizing for past comments that may have caused some to wrinkle their nose at his words.

"I want to be the best (tight end) ever," he said. "I want to be someone like Michael Jordan. I want to change the evolution of the game. I think I bring something new to the game ... that’s been a goal my whole life."

And who was the best tight end ever until Kellen Winslow Jr. came along to rewrite the script?

"Pop," smiled Jr., in reference to his Hall of Fame father.

Were you really expecting him to say Ozzie Newsome or John Mackey?

"I’ve wanted (to be the best) probably since I was 5," continued Junior, who once labeled himself as "The Chosen One." "I knew I wanted to be like Jerry Rice. I used to watch my dad’s tapes all the time and I wanted to be so much better than him. I’ve been waiting for this my whole life and I’m ready."

Junior’s got some Jeremy Shockey in him — his predecessor at Miami — but for Winslow, it comes across more as a personal confidence or cockiness than Shockey’s apparent disdain for everyone else around him.

"I didn’t expect (the soldier quote to cause a stir), but I did learn from it," Winslow said. "I’ve learned how the media works and I’ve grown from it. But I’m not trying to be the uptight person that the media portrays as their golden boy. I’m just going to be my own person. I say what’s on my mind. I think I got that from my mom (Katrina). And my dad always says, ‘If you’ve got anything to say, say it. Just know when to say it.’ And I’m learning that."

On the field, you really have to nitpick to find fault with his talent and potential. Many of the questions about his blocking ability were answered last year, particularly in Miami’s late-season win over Pittsburgh. But it is fair game to criticize him for occasionally losing his mind and getting tagged with an unnecessary penalty.

"If you tell me that he has a rough edge because he wants to be the best ... I guess you’re right," Tortora said. "Maybe more people should be like that. But I think when a young man is developing, he should have an opportunity to make mistakes and the opportunity to say things quickly. You have to put things in perspective.

"The bottom line is that he performs every single down the same way. As far as I’m concerned, give me 11 of those guys."


Dave Solomon, the Register sports columnist, can be reached at dsolomon@nhregister.com