Publish date:

They Took Charge

Appropriately, senior writer Rick Reilly frames his tribute to
the epic 1982 AFC divisional playoff game between the Miami
Dolphins and the San Diego Chargers (page 124) around
placekicker Rolf Benirschke and tight end Kellen Winslow, the
two players who heroically led the Chargers to victory that day.
While Reilly briefly explains the link between his and Winslow's
families in the story--Rick and his wife, Linda, named their
elder son after the Hall of Famer--he didn't write about his
connection with the Benirschkes.

Reilly never forgot what he saw on television that day in
Denver, where he was a 23-year-old sportswriter for The Denver
Post. "I was so inspired by that game," he says, alluding
especially to the 24-year-old Winslow's willing of the Chargers
to that memorable triumph in the Orange Bowl. "And I always
loved the name Kellen." Winslow, a commentator for Fox Sports
and the commissioner of the Indoor Football League, couldn't be
happier that his name has become so popular. He knows of 130
kids named after him. "There's no greater honor," he says. "It's
a family name. My father's grandfather was James Kellen Winslow."

Kellen Jr., a 6'5", 210-pound junior at Scripps Ranch High in
San Diego, who was born one year after the Chargers' great
victory, is following in his father's cleat marks. He plays
almost everywhere on the field--tight end, wide receiver,
defensive end, free safety, quarterback, punter and kickoff man.
"I think his best position is quarterback," says the elder
Kellen, even though his son is the second-stringer at that
position. "He could be a bigger Donovan McNabb. But the coaches
hear the name Winslow and think tight end."

Since 1982 the Benirschkes have also added to their family. On
Nov. 17, 1992, Rolf's wife, Mary, gave birth to their first
child, Kari, who was 13 weeks premature and weighed just over
two pounds. Doctors told Rolf and Mary that their daughter
probably would not survive, but 2 1/2 months later, by Super
Bowl Sunday of 1993, Kari had made a remarkable recovery and was
able to go home. "I never played in a Super Bowl," Rolf says,
"but that Super Bowl Sunday is one that I will never forget."

Two years later the Benirschkes made arrangements to adopt a
child in Russia. Rolf flew to Kaliningrad to bring home
four-year-old Erik. When he arrived he was told that he could
take Erik only if he also took his two-year-old brother, Timmy,
who was born with a cleft palate and was a malnourished 17
pounds. Unable to contact Mary and under pressure to make a
decision, Rolf took a chance and brought both boys home. "We
have to remember the importance of second chances," says Rolf,
who lives in San Diego and sees Winslow at Chargers alumni
events and games. "I look at that Miami game as a metaphor for
my life. I got a second chance to kick that field goal in
overtime. Most kickers don't."

Like the Benirschkes, the Reillys have adopted a child. Their
daughter Rae, 10, is from South Korea. "Linda and I believe that
we should only replace ourselves, but we also wanted more kids,"
says Rick. "We had two boys [Kellen, now 14, and Jake, 12], and
we just had to have a girl."

Now Rick has another new baby, one that weighs about two pounds
and began appearing in bookstores last week: Slo-Mo: My Untold
Story. It's his second novel, a jockography set during the
rookie year of 7'8" NBA phenom Maurice (Slo-Mo) Finsternick.
Real-life NBA personalities such as Charles Barkley, Phil
Jackson, Ahmad Rashad and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf somehow find their
way into the 293 pages. "It was so much fun," Reilly says of
writing the novel. "You can totally make up quotes. And I got to
make fun of Rashad, which was really a blast."

Bill Colson, Managing Editor

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Winslow (left) and Benirschke still glow from that victory 17 years ago.

"We have to remember the importance of second chances," says