clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Winston Hill: Namath's Graceful Protector

New, comments
Garrett Reid-USA TODAY Sports

What would an ideal bodyguard look like? He would probably take the form of someone very tall, well built, and bulky. Maybe he would also have quick feet and be able to move well. For Joe Namath, his protector had a measurable of 6’4" and 270 pounds. On top of this, he was regarded as an enjoyable, witty companion off the field, yet a fierce competitor on the gridiron. This bodyguard’s name is Winston Hill.

Hill was responsible for protecting the star of the New York Jets and served the franchise with an unmatched dedication. Despite failing to suit up once in his rookie season, Hill played in every other matchup for the Jets throughout his 14-year career. Hill owned the 10th longest streak of consecutive starts in NFL history at the time with 174.

Although he is often regarded as an intense all-around tackle, Hill bears a name that suggests a completely opposite demeanor. "Of all the names I could have had that would have inspired fear: Rocky, Bruiser. My parents had to name me Winston," once remarked Hill. "Winnie to everyone. I mean could you see a defensive lineman terrified because he had to go up against a Winnie?"

Hill grew up in Joaquin, Texas, where his father worked as principal for nearby Weldon High School in Gladewater, Texas. In addition to football, Hill was a stellar performer on the tennis team, which ultimately helped him to acquire good footwork and a certain quickness on the football field.

After graduating from high school, Hill took his talents to Texas Southern University in order to pursue his football dreams. Hill achieved All-American status, playing on both the offensive and defensive lines alongside several future professional players, such as Charlie Frazier, W.K. Hicks, Willis Perkins, Art Strahan, Warren Wells, Andy Rice, B.W. Cheeks, Gene Jeter, and Homer Jones.

The Baltimore Colts, a team that would eventually rise to be one of the best in the league, selected Hill late in the 1963 NFL Draft. However, Hill decided to sign as a free agent with the AFL Jets after being cut by Baltimore. He enjoyed an outstanding career in New York, traveling to four AFL All-Star games in 1964 and from 1967-69, as well as earning four successive NFL Pro Bowl honors between 1970-1973 following a merger between the two leagues.

Early in his career, Hill was mostly regarded as a premier pass blocker. Understanding his role in protecting Namath, he worked hard to become one of the most complete offensive linemen in professional football. He was extremely tall, especially for the time period during which he played, and Hill used his strength to blow out opposing defensive linemen. Despite his stature, Hill was also very smooth and elegant.

In an article from Paul Zimmerman in Sports Illustrated, then Jets fullback Matt Snell claimed, "So graceful, so beautiful to watch. Took them just where he wanted them to go. Never seemed like he was exerting himself that much. Tell me, did you ever seen Winnie sweat?"

Hill stood out in an era where blockers seemed to be no match for defensive linemen like Mean Joe Greene, Deacon Jones, Alan Page, Bob Lilly, and Merlin Olsen. At the time, o-linemen could only keep their hands on their chests, rather than extending their arms, such as in today’s NFL. This limitation made it much harder for blockers to do their job because they had to make a formation that resembled chicken wings with their arms in attempting to stand in the way of these legendary pass rushers.

Hill promptly earned a starting spot at left tackle, but the team struggled for a few years until the franchise drafted Broadway Joe in 1965. That same year, Hill made his first All-Star team before starting a streak of seven straight Pro Bowls in 1967 when the Jets had its first winning season in the organization’s history. The following year, Hill and the Jets rode an 11-3 record right into Super Bowl III for a match-up against the Colts, the same team that had originally drafted him…and then cut him.

Heading into the Super Bowl in the Jets’ first playoff appearance in franchise history, the Colts entered the game as a heavy 18-point favorite. However, New York possessed an attitude of confidence that rested on the border of cockiness, which was first evident in Namath’s famous guaranteed victory, as the entire AFL wanted to prove itself as a force to be reckoned with by its NFL counterparts.

Throughout most of Super Bowl III, the Jets ran straight toward Hill on the left side of the line, avoiding standout defensive end Bubba Smith. The Colts still possessed a two-headed monster, as two-time Pro Bowler Ordell Braase lined up on the right side of the defense opposite to Smith. Despite a tough matchup, Hill dominated Braase, and the Jets constantly fed Snell, who would continuously bounce to the outside on the left, while Hill drove his man to the inside in order to seal the edge. Running behind Hill, Snell rushed for a game-high 121 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries to lead Gang Green to a 16-7 victory for the first true upset in Super Bowl history. Even though Namath and Snell are generally well known for heading the Jets’ win, Hill played a major part in providing enough time for Namath to get rid of the ball and opening major holes for the running game.

In 1971, the squad moved Hill to right tackle, which was a testament to his versatility as both a pass and run blocker. He remained on the right side of the line for the remainder of his career with the Jets, but failed to make a Pro Bowl after the 1973 season, although 1974 was remembered to be one of the best of his career by many former coaches and teammates.

Joe Willie decided to sign with the Los Angeles Rams in 1977, so, naturally, Namath took his bodyguard with him. Hill only suited up for three games with the Rams before retiring that same year. He concluded his career with the most Pro Bowls in franchise history, including four in each league, which demonstrated his true supremacy by his ability to dominate in both the AFL and the NFL. Hill was eventually named to the AFL All-Time Team and signified the Jets’ very first Ring of Honor inductee.

Currently, Hill still attends many NYJ fundraising events and even owns a restaurant in Centennial, Colorado. He opened up the BBQ joint in the early 1990s, calling it Winston Hill’s Ribs & Stuff, where the shop claims, "You won’t find a better barbecue restaurant in Centennial, CO."

Despite Hill’s success in both leagues, the Pro Football Hall of Fame has not yet recognized him as a worthy candidate. Although the exclusive club in Canton has failed to even include Hill’s name for consideration, he rests in the hearts of Jets fans as one of the greatest blockers in team history. He is probably the most complete and controlling offensive lineman to ever suit up for the Gang Green.