Super Bowl teams don’t come together overnight. Instead, they require unsung heroes that bring stability throughout the rigors of multiple NFL seasons. Long snapper James Winchester of the Kansas City Chiefs is a walking testament to that reality, tied with two other Chiefs players for most playoff appearances in franchise history.
That record grew this past Sunday as Winchester took part in what many sports voices are calling the greatest divisional-round game in NFL history. That historic win against the Buffalo Bills has the Chiefs one win away from heading to their third straight Super Bowl. The franchise is in the middle of its best stretch ever, having made the playoffs every year since 2015. James Winchester has been along for the whole ride.
The Chiefs long snapper had an improbable road to the fixture he is in KC today. Winchester played class A football in High School just 14 miles south of Norman, Okla. When he didn’t receive a scholarship offer from the University of Oklahoma (OU), he walked on as a wide receiver. The OU receiving corps was loaded during that time, so playing time was unlikely. However, he took an opportunity to get playing time when the team’s long snapper went down with an injury, showing up to special teams practice to get in reps at the position.
Winchester ended up snapping on punts for three years as a Sooner, gaining an unofficial reputation as the “fastest” long snapper in college football. Unfortunately, at 185 pounds, the roster spots for long snappers in the NFL would be a pipe dream. After college, he spent a year working in the oil and gas industry, while his NFL possibilities barely flickered.
Winchester put in the work, bulked up significantly, and made it to the NFL in 2013, making his way to Kansas City in 2015.
“It’s pretty incredible to see where God has taken me into the NFL and being able to provide for my family and provide lifetime memories and experiences for everyone that I love, everyone back home in Washington (Okla.) and Norman, everyone that’s followed my career all the way up.” Winchester told Sports Spectrum.
Winchester’s original dream was to follow in his father’s footsteps and play Sooner football for OU, and he turned down scholarship offers from other schools to do so. Tragically his father was murdered by a fellow Southwest Airlines employee in their home state of Oklahoma in 2016.
“You obviously can’t imagine going through something like that and losing your father that way,” Winchester said.
Just under a year later, Winchester and his wife welcomed their son, Jase, into the world. This contrast of one of the lowest lows and highest highs in the span of a year provided a spark for Winchester in his understanding of legacy. “I already get fired up and a little emotional thinking about following his career,” Winchester told Sports Illustrated. “I hope he plays longer and does bigger things. It’s such a cool thing carrying on your dad’s legacy playing.”
Winchester dedicated the Chiefs 2020 Super Bowl win to his late father:
Relying on His faith in Christ to move on after the tragedy, Winchester has also been a rock in the Chiefs locker room. Along with team chaplain Marcellus Casey and a few other team leaders, he has led the charge for prayer in the KC locker room. “It’s hard to put a word that describes how important prayer is for us. It really is a huge help to us in our daily walk,” he said. “I don’t know what I would do without prayer, to be honest with you. I don’t know how I’d get through situations in life without praying to the One who created us.”
Though Winchester is a part of an unprecedented run that shows little signs of slowing down, his focus remains clear. “My faith in Jesus Christ is the foundation of everything. It’s why I’m here today,” he said in an interview with Sports Spectrum. “It’s why I’m able to wake up every morning and breathe the air that I do. He is the reason for everything. Through the good and the bad, He’s been with me. He’s been so good to me and my family. There are so many blessings, and things through life that happen—good or bad—that He’s been with us. I think we just owe it all to Him. I’m thankful to be here.”