No matter how well he plays in Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles, James Winchester of the Kansas City Chiefs will not be the game’s MVP.
No matter how perfect his execution, no matter how flawless his performance, Winchester’s name will only make the post-game writeups and highlight reels if he fouls things up. He can’t be the hero. He can only be the goat.
Such is life for a long snapper, where obscurity and anonymity are the key benchmarks for success, according to Ted Kluck, a journalism professor at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, who has done his own share of long snapping in semi-pro and arena leagues.
“You’ve got to stick your head through your legs and fire a perfect 15-yard pass on a rope back to the punter,” Kluck said. “Your day goes well if nobody notices.”
Kluck is the author of a book on the topic, “Upside Down Football: An Inside Look at Long Snapping in the NFL.”
“I could always do it really well physically, but it was the mental side that was always harder for me,” Kluck said. “If I would get in my own head about it or start thinking about it, that’s when it would go south for me. It’s almost like a catcher getting the yips and not being able to throw the ball back to the pitcher, or somebody not being able to throw the ball to first base. … The guys that are best at it are the guys that don’t think about it all that much.”
Keeping faith as the foundation
Winchester would fit in that category.
Now in his eighth season with the Chiefs after playing collegiately at Oklahoma, Winchester is making his third Super Bowl appearance this year. While football may be his profession, for Winchester, his faith in Jesus Christ is the foundation for his life.
“I was brought up in an old Baptist church in central Oklahoma,” Winchester said. “And I had grandparents and great-great-great grandparents that were old Baptist preachers.”
Winchester, who grew up under the influence of his Christian family, made a profession of faith at a young age. His home church of Bethlehem Primitive Baptist Church in Purcell, Oklahoma, may be just a little country church, but it’s still Winchester’s home.
“When you’re younger, I think by the grace of God, you follow your family, and you’re in a good place,” he said. “But there comes a time — college probably — at 18, where you’re kind of out on your own. And every one of us has to grow.”
‘Always still growing’
“We’re always still growing,” Winchester noted. “We’re always instructed to grow in faith and grow in knowledge. So, I think it’s a work in progress.”
Speaking to Sports Spectrum prior to Super Bowl LIV in Miami, Florida, in 2020, Winchester said playing in a Super Bowl was a gift from God.
“You honor the Lord in everything you do, in your words and your actions,” he said. “I think for us, on this stage, we do just that, just continue trying to be a man of God and walk in a way that’s honoring and glorifying to him. I think the rest takes care of itself.”