EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings are mourning the passing of Legend Roy Winston, who passed away Saturday at the age of 82.
Winston originally was drafted by the Chargers 42nd overall in the 1962 AFL Draft before the merger, but when Minnesota selected him 45th overall in the NFL Draft just two days later, the linebacker became a Viking for life.
Winston played 190 games for the Vikings, including 160 starts. His games played for Minnesota are second-most in franchise history among linebackers behind Scott Studwell's 201 and are tied with Randall McDaniel for eighth overall among all Vikings.
Over an incredible 15-season career, Winston helped the Vikings reach the postseason eight times, including four trips to the Super Bowl, under Hall of Fame Coach Bud Grant. Winston appeared in all four of those contests.
"Roy wasn't tall enough, big enough of fast enough. All he was, was good enough," Grant said. "Roy was a great player who became a great leader by example for us.
"He had the greatest ability, which is durability. He played every down in every game," Grant added. "He was not the biggest or the fastest, but he was as good as there was. He was an invaluable member to some great teams. He was good and steady and as big a part of the Vikings as anybody.
"Roy became one of the best, hardest-working, most loyal players we had," Grant continued. "And, later, we would hunt and fish together, we liked the same things and he was a great friend to his teammates. I considered him a good friend."
Winston recorded 12 interceptions, which is tied for second among Vikings linebackers with former teammates Rip Hawkins and Lonnie Warwick. Matt Blair set the team record for linebackers with 16 from 1974-85.
He became the first Vikings player to ever record three interceptions in one game (Oct. 25, 1964 at San Francisco). The only other Vikings linebacker to accomplish that in team history was Jack Del Rio (1993 at Detroit).
Winston recorded a sack in the 1969 NFL Championship and another the following week in Super Bowl IV, the first by a Viking in a Super Bowl.
Interestingly, that success didn't happen until original Vikings Head Coach Norm Van Brocklin moved Winston from offense to defense. You see, Winston initially was drafted by the Vikings as an offensive lineman. He recalled his early days with the Vikings in a 1976 interview with Jim Klobuchar of the Minneapolis Star:
"I bombed out as a guard in my first few months with the Vikings in 1962, and they tried me at middle linebacker when Rip Hawkins got hurt," Winston had recalled. "I did all right for a while, but I might have needed remedial work in reading signs because I started blowing the signals Harry Gilmer was giving me form the sidelines.
"Some visiting newspaperman from talking to Van Brocklin that year said he understood Winston was one of the few two-platoon types in football," Winston continued. "Van Brocklin gave some kind of snort and said, 'That's right, he goes two ways. He can't play guard, and he can't play middle linebacker."
But fortunately for both sides, the Vikings tried Winston at outside linebacker, and the position stuck. Klobuchar wrote that Winston played the role "with increasing shrewdness and efficiency as the years rolled up."
Winston grew close to his Vikings comrades both on and away from the gridiron. An avid pheasant hunter, he often traveled with teammates – and Grant – on off days to fellow linebacker Wally Hilgenberg's native Iowa for a full day in a very different type of field.
"I was from West Virginia and went to college in Tennessee, so I had hunted a lot of birds," former Vikings linebacker Lonnie Warwick said in an earlier interview. "Roy was from Louisiana and he was a big hunter, so we hunted together whenever we could. When Wally came to the Vikings in 1968, that's when we started going to Iowa for pheasants."
Warwick, who played his entire 10-season career with Winston, said there "wasn't a better or smarter linebacker" in the NFL.
"He should have gotten more recognition than he did as an all-around player and student of the game. His knowledge was second to none," Warwick told Vikings.com Monday. "We became great friends, and I will truly miss him.
"You can't spend as much time as we did on the football field, traveling, hunting and fishing, and our families being together, and not grow close," Warwick added.
A native of Baton Rouge, Winston stood out as a guard and linebacker at LSU, where as a senior he helped the Tigers defeat rival Ole Miss 10-7 and later defeat Colorado in the Orange Bowl.
After his playing career, Winston returned to Louisiana and worked in the oil industry for 20 years.