Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Winston’s legacy reaches far beyond field
Former University of Arkansas football player Dennis Winston at the Washington County Historical Society in 2012. Winston and other former Razorbacks spoke about their experiences being among the first black players to play at the University of Arkansas.
FAYETTEVILLE - Prejudice isn’t always horrific.
In fact, prejudice can provide an ultimate sign of respect.
For in the case of the recent 11 announced as worthy to be inducted to the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, I am unabashedly prejudiced regarding Dennis Winston. Prejudiced on his behalf.
Certainly not in achievements, but in time, Hall of Famer Dennis “Dirt”Winston and I share a bond.
Winston came to the University of Arkansas as a freshman linebacker out of Marianna in the summer of 1973, the same summer I arrived in Fayetteville fresh out of college to cover the Razorbacks.
Covering the blossoming Razorbacks rookie instantly became part of the rookie reporter’s job. It’s been a welcomed part of the job for 40 years. From a precocious1973 freshman linebacker, Winston blossomed into the 1974 national defensive player of the week. He made 19 tackles, mostly pulverizing All-America running back Anthony Davis, in the stunning 26-7 upset over eventual UPI national champion Southern California.
Winston’s star kept rising at Arkansas and then morphed into 10 years of NFL stardom, including Super Bowl titles with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ fabled Steel Curtain.
Later came coaching. He coached in the Canadian Football League and all over the college map, including an ill-timed 1997stop at Arkansas. Winston was the Grambling State defensive coordinator for the great Eddie Robinson but eagerly came home to coach on Arkansas’ defense for what became Danny Ford’s lame-duck season.
Winston was cast out in the ensuing staff change.
Last November he completed his second Grambling State hitch as defensive coordinator. Unfortunately he also became interim head coach with the head coach and previous interim both fired. Now Winston will move on with Grambling hiring yet another head coach.
Through all the years we’ve stayed in touch, a friendship nurtured by time and mutual friends but definitely rooted in 1973.
For while we were both too young to fully grasp it then, 1973 was a pivotal year for Arkansas. Winston was part of the Razorbacks’ first large (13) black recruiting class after Jon Richardson broke the football scholarship color line in 1969.
It proved an understated triumph in race relations, an example that young blacks and young whites can teach their teachers the business of getting along.
Two summers ago I moderated a Washington County Historical Society panel discussion with Winston and teammates Brison Manor and Johnnie Meadors and former trainer Dean Weber, all 1973 newcomers, regarding that season’s lasting impact.
It wasn’t a perfect year - certainly not on the field (where Arkansas went 5-5-1) or off it (racism of all sorts can lurk most anywhere, and back then it stood out in plain sight throughout parts of Northwest Arkansas) - but a subtly dramatic year because it was without dramatics. It was a year fondly reviewed by the panelists, entrenching their ongoing love for the UA and the legacy they bequeathed in black and white.
Dennis Winston played a Hall of Fame part in that legacy 40 years before this induction to the Hall of Fame.
Sports, Pages 24 on 12/28/2013