As imposing and smashmouth as Winston Hill was on the gridiron to opposing defenses, he will be all smiles on Monday night at New Meadowlands Stadium. The legendary Jets offensive tackle will be inducted into the Jets' Ring of Honor during halftime of the primetime preseason opener against the Giants.
"It's probably the greatest thing that I could ever think of," Hill told newyorkjets.com. "I could not imagine getting this. This is great."
Hill, from Joaquin, Texas, started to turn heads in his college football career. He played at Texas Southern, where he excelled at both offensive and defensive line positions and earned All-American honors. After being drafted by the Baltimore Colts and quickly released in 1963, he was signed as a free agent by the Jets soon after.
With his quick feet and incredible strength, "Winnie" had a storied 14-year career from 1963-76, with the first half of it spent at left tackle as Joe Namath's "personal protector" of his blind side and the second half as the right tackle starter. He wore uniform No. 75 the entire time.
"It was great to protect Joe all those years," Hill said. "You come across great people in a lifetime, and he's one of them. He was a very special ballplayer and elevated everyone else's play."
Hill was also known for outstanding durability at his position throughout his entire career. He still holds the franchise mark for offensive linemen with 195 consecutive games played. He did this despite a broken leg in the 1965 preseason and his throat being stepped on in 1974. He isn't sure exactly how he stayed healthy for all those years but believes in a few key factors.
"I guess DNA has a lot to do with it," he said, "along with a hard-work ethic."
Hill's bruising blocks for a ground attack that included such runners as Matt Snell, Emerson Boozer and John Riggins were also extremely beneficial to the team. His performance was critical in the Jets' Super Bowl III victory over the Colts, 16-7, on Jan. 12, 1969. He flattened the Baltimore defensive frontline as Snell rushed 30 times for 121 yards and the Jets totaled 142 rushing yards.
"We were looking forward to playing the game, but we didn't know how important it really was, or at least I didn't," said Hill. "We just knew we were in it."
Hill, who still owns Winston Hill's Ribs and Stuff barbecue restaurant in Denver and continues to work in his Colorado community, is the most decorated player in Jets franchise history. He played in four AFL All-Star Games from 1964-69 and then was voted to participate in four NFL Pro Bowls from 1970-73.
Though having a very deserving career, he has still not gotten the call from the Hall of Fame, and there are a few who think he should be enshrined.
"Winston should be in the Hall of Fame," said Frank Ramos, the Jets' longtime public relations director. "Bill Parcells wasn't around him all that much, but Bill also said the guy should be in the Hall. He was a great pass protector at left tackle for Namath. Then when the Jets picked up Bob Svihus in 1971, Svihus could only play left tackle so they asked Winston if he could move to right tackle."
And Rex Ryan, who was around the 1968 team as a kid when his dad, Buddy, became Weeb Ewbank's D-line coach, lists Hill as a member of his personal trinity along with Namath and DE Gerry Philbin and later owned an English mastiff that he named "Winston."
"He was always just a great guy. In fact, he was maybe the biggest guy out there, which automatically grabbed your attention," Ryan said of Hill, who went 6'4" and 280, big for a tackle in those days. "But he was just a great athlete. Thumbing back through some of my football card knowledge, he was a tennis player at Texas Southern. That'll tell you a little bit about his athleticism, his feet and everything else."
Despite these kudos, for Hill this induction into the Ring of Honor is incredible enough, and if Canton comes calling, that will be icing on the cake.
"If it happens, yes, I would accept immediately," Hill said. "But being in the first class that will go into that stadium with the character of the people that are going in with me, I'm not going to consider anything else an honor higher than this. Being put in the Hall of Fame doesn't measure up right now."