Two For Texas Southern

By Michael-Louis Ingram
Updated: June 29, 2008

NEW YORK — As a fitting denouement to winning this year’s Super Bowl, Giants’ defensive end Michael Strahan announced his retirement for pro football.

Walking off the gridiron with his health somewhat intact, the jovial Strahan will heal up and trade the helmet for the headset and a chair in the television booth.

In five years, the reality of a gold jacket will punctuate the fact this 15-year veteran will be the first player from historically Black Texas Southern University to be added to the rank and file of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But the issue for discussion isn’t whether Strahan is a first-ballot HOF selection; the real issue is why Strahan is the first Texas Southern Tiger in the Hall?

Because over 45 years ago, the best player on a football field from Texas Southern was also a member of a New York football team.

Winston Hill, No.75 for the New York Jets, at 6-feet-4, 275 pounds was the unsung lynchpin of an offensive line whose primary function was to protect the American Football League’s franchise player, Joe Willie Namath.

It would serve to recall what was at stake in those early days of the AFL as they looked to go toe-to-toe with the National Football League. In spite of the fact much of the major talent was Black and mostly from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), the centerpiece of the AFL’s existence was the brash kid who came out of the University of Alabama and signed the $425,000 contract with New York, passing up the offer by the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals.

Regardless of the success of earlier teams like the Houston Oilers, Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills, most of the players that were talked up in those early years were NFL “rejects” like Len Dawson, Tobin Rote, John Hadl and George Blanda.

Namath, white shoes, gimpy knees and all was the marquee attraction, and the league knew it because he was considered the first legitimate “get” the fledgling league was able to pry from the standard bearers of the Big League.

But what has been long forgotten was that Hill was the first real get for the team that started out as the New York Titans in 1960. Coming in as a free agent after being drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1963, Hill’s technical skills and footwork at tackle were lost on those observers who refused to pay attention to a mediocre team.

So when the fanfare died down and the man known as “Broadway Joe” stepped under center, it became apparent, fans and press alike had to take notice of everything.

Namath also brought something which at the time posed a problem for some opponents. Being a right-handed passer, the left side now became his blind-side, making him even more vulnerable for potential injury.

So the responsibility for holding down the line of scrimmage to protect “The Franchise” was placed upon the shoulders of the big man from Texas Southern.

All Hill did was become an eight-time Pro Bowl player and winner of numerous league awards. Mike Bruton, Sunday Editor for the Philadelphia Tribune, played at Texas A&M and is related to Hill. “Winnie Hill lived in Joaquin, which is in the eastern part of the state, around where I grew up as well.

“In those days of the AFL when everyone started to notice the younger league’s overall talent coming up to par with the NFL, you could make the argument that Hill, along with Art Shell (Oakland Raiders) and Ron Mix (Chargers) were the three top offensive tackles in the league, bar none.

“With Mix and Shell already accounted for in Canton, I can’t see any reason why Hill isn’t included — and his bust in the Hall of Fame where it belongs.”

In addition to blocking for running backs like Emerson Boozer, Matt Snell and John Riggins, Hill started an amazing 174 games, 10th longest in a league that rewards consistency with ice packs and Jacuzzis.

Where Is The Love?

While his fellow alum Strahan has become a media-savvy player who walked the walk on Game Day, the attitude to remember Hill as a stalwart and integral part of New York Jet success seems minimal by comparison.

Only Namath (No. 12) Hall of Fame wide receiver Don Maynard (No. 13), defensive tackle Joe Klecko (No. 73) and Hall of Fame head coach Weeb Ewbank are recognized as all-time heroes.

Maybe Namath will take a break from his panty hose commercials and speak up for his talented teammate Winston Hill, because without him, Namath would never have made it out of Willets Point, let alone Broadway.

For that matter, when will players like Freeman McNeil (No. 24), Wesley Walker (No. 85) Emerson Boozer (No. 32) and Marvin Powell (No. 79), get similar consideration along with Hill’s No. 75, tailback Curtis Martin’s (No. 28) obvious contributions notwithstanding?

The argument that the change of Jet ownership, compared to the stability and treatment of ex-players by the Mara family made a difference in giving credit where credit is due.

But for all the footage shot of Namath releasing those passes downfield, one would have to be blind as a bat not to see Hill somewhere in the frame, holding it down like a true pit boss should.

If the argument can be made for the Super Bowl III victory over the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts being one of the most significant games in football history, then to deny Winston Hill his rightful place in Canton is to jettison a giant talent into the annals of anonymity.

Perhaps now that the time will be there to reflect, Strahan might give pause to speak up for his former Tiger alum, who, like Strahan, was the best player on the field wearing a New York jersey