Antoine Winfield: Cover dad
[size=13pt]Antoine Winfield: Cover dad[/size]
Estranged from his own father for most of his life, Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield now makes time during a busy NFL season to cover his three young boys as well as he does wide receivers.
Mark Craig, Star Tribune
Last update: October 01, 2006 â€“ 12:42 AM
Antoine Winfield was fighting a touch of a cold, had just gone through the toughest practice of the week and still had hours of game film to watch. But he wasn't going home to medicate, sleep or study the many moves of Buffalo Bills running back Willis McGahee, at least not immediately.
"My kids love video games, so I'm taking them to GameWorks downtown," the Vikings cornerback said Wednesday afternoon. "My dad was never around, and I definitely don't want to follow in his footsteps. I always told myself that I was going to be better than him. So my kids come first."
On the field, Winfield has football instincts the kind of which former Ohio State coach John Cooper calls "the best of any player I ever coached in 39 years." Off the field, Winfield mostly hones his paternal instincts by hanging out with his wife, Erniece, and their three sons, Antoine Jr., 8; Austin, 5; and Ethan, 2.
"He's a good father; his dad wasn't," said Nathan Winfield, Antoine's maternal grandfather, who helped raise Antoine in Akron, Ohio.
Nathan and his wife, Velma, plan to drive 3Â½ hours to Orchard Park, N.Y., for today's game between the Vikings and Bills. It's their grandson's first game against his original team since becoming the best free-agent signing in Vikings history, coming over in 2004.
One person who is not expected to be at Ralph Wilson Stadium today is Anthony Finney, Antoine's father. Although Finney, 47, still lives in Akron, Antoine has not spoken to him in about three years.
The last time Finney truly reached out to Antoine was seven years ago when the Bills made Winfield the 23rd pick in the NFL draft. Winfield, the Jim Thorpe Award winner as best defensive back in college football, was about to reap the financial rewards of an outstanding collegiate career.
"I pretty much knew what his intentions were, and I really didn't entertain them," Winfield said of Finney. "I went through high school without him being at my games. I went through college without him being at my games. Then, all of a sudden, I get in the NFL and now you want to come around? It'll never happen like that."
Winfield was a natural tackler even before he was a 65-pound 8-year-old with the Firestone Park Pee Wee Rams. His first playing field was out front of Nathan and Velma's house, which they still live in.
"He was real small, but always tough," Nathan said. "I knew he would be a good football player just by watching him play in the street out front."
Bill McGee, the former coach at Akron Garfield High School, would love to take credit for a nearly impeccable tackling technique that makes Winfield a rarity among NFL cornerbacks. Winfield's 21 tackles (19 solo) are tied for the team lead with middle linebacker Napoleon Harris. Only Tampa Bay's Ronde Barber, who has 29 (28 solo), has more tackles among NFL cornerbacks.
"I guess I could say I developed it, but he was our best player the moment he came to us as a 137-pound freshman," McGee said. "Four years later, I'd go to Ohio State to see him, and still then all the kickers were bigger than him. But that didn't matter."
Winfield played free safety and running back at Garfield. He was a 1,000-yard rusher who could catch and block. And he could tackle. Boy, could he tackle.
"I put together sort of a training tape of Antoine's best plays," McGee said. "Everything he did was textbook. By the time he was a junior, teams just didn't throw to the middle of the field. Antoine either intercepted it, or they usually had to carry the receiver off the field."
Cooper routinely churned out first-round draft picks at all positions at Ohio State. Cornerback was no exception. Washington's Shawn Springs was the third overall pick by Seattle in 1997.
"I used to make Springs mad because I would say Antoine was the best cornerback I ever coached," Cooper said. "Springs would say, 'C'mon, coach, I'm the best corner you ever coached.' And I'd say, 'You're the best cover corner. Antoine is the best cornerback.' Antoine can do it all. Antoine plays better than you can coach."
Despite three 100-tackle seasons in the NFL, including an average of 108 over the past three years, Winfield still has not made a Pro Bowl. Part of it is a workmanlike style and production at a position that generally is rewarded for its flamboyance.
"I don't know that he stands up and gives you a Dale Carnegie all the time, but he speaks with the way he plays," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "Just by virtue of the fact that you're not always talking about Antoine Winfield, Antoine Winfield, Antoine Winfield -- much the same as when you're not talking about offensive linemen -- means he's doing his job and doing it well."
Perhaps Winfield will add enough spice to his rÃ©sumÃ© to attract more Pro Bowl votes this season. In addition to his game-high 11 tackles (10 solo) in last week's 19-16 loss to the Bears, Winfield also returned an interception 7 yards for the first touchdown of his NFL career.
Of course, Winfield was thinking more about the loss and a rare missed tackle on a play where running back Thomas Jones juked him.
"Once Thomas shook me, I didn't even look to the sideline because I knew the guys would be over there laughing at me," Winfield said. "Then I got the phone calls from all my boys back in Akron. It was all in good fun because they all have been calling me a great tackler. I'd say I miss less than five a year, but Thomas got me good on that one."
Although Childress said he can't think of anyone in the league who hits harder "pound for pound" than the 5-9, 180-pound Winfield, it's rare if ever that Winfield delivers the kill shot that makes it to the ESPN highlight show.
"That's not my game," Winfield said. "I try to find angles, grab and hold on. I hit low, strike low before they see me and try to wrap up. If you're talking about tacklers who just run through people, that's not me. But if you're talking about tacklers who get the guy on the ground, then I'm up there."
Steady off the field
Winfield met his wife in sixth grade when they were in a young scholars program. He stayed out of trouble and even maintained a high grade-point average "until about my third year at Ohio State, when I realized I'd make it to the NFL. Then they slipped a bit."Antoine Winfield was an absolute model everything," Cooper said. "Model citizen, model student-athlete. We had zero problems with him. He exactly what you want on the football field. Heck, he's exactly what you want your son to be."
He's also nice to have around if you're a certain NFL team that's been dogged by Love Boats, Whizzinators and drunken-driving scandals the past 12 months.
"Antoine keeps to himself and keeps his nose clean," said tight end Jermaine Wiggins, one of Winfield's closest friends on the team. "You know week in and week out what you're getting from Antoine."
Winfield, however, is thinking about renting a boat on Lake Minnetonka next summer.
"Yeah, my kids really want to go fishing, and I haven't been able to take them yet," Winfield said. "We were going to go to Lake Minnetonka this summer, but I couldn't find a boat."
Winfield usually is dragging by the time he reaches the doorstep of his Eden Prairie home each night. He walks through and gets jumped by three boys, all under the age of 9, and each beginning to show signs that they want to be as physical as their dad.
"I think I'm a good person, but I would have been a better person if I would have had a male figure like a father in my life," Winfield said. "I come through that door and I know I've got to study film, and they're running to me, hugging me, dragging me out the door. It wakes me up, gives me energy. I can do my thing after they go to bed."
Do they ever ask about Anthony Finney?
"Nah," Winfield said. "They don't need their granddaddy. They got me."
Mark Craig â€¢ [email protected]
Re: Antoine Winfield: Cover dad
[size=13pt]The Winfield File[/size]
Last update: September 30, 2006 â€“ 9:14 PM
â€¢ 5-9, 180 pounds, 29 years old
He was an all-state defensive player at Garfield High School in Akron, Ohio, where he also rushed for 1,069 yards in his senior season.
At Ohio State, he won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back in 1998 following his senior season. He was a two-time All-America and, as a junior, was the Buckeyes' most valuable player.
A FORMER BILL
Taken with the 23rd pick in the first round by Buffalo in 1999 and was a special teams standout as a rookie, playing most of the year as a backup to cornerback Ken Irvin. In 2000, Winfield became a starter for the Bills. He was one of the team's leading tacklers over the next four seasons.
A NEW ANCHOR
In 2004, Winfield signed a free-agent contract with the Vikings, who outbid the New York Jets. Winfield's six-year contract could be worth $35 million, and it included a $10.8 million signing bonus. Winfield continues to be an excellent special teams player, and also had a career high with four interceptions last season for the Vikings. On Sunday, he scored his first NFL touchdown on an interception return vs. Chicago.