After winning his first Super Bowl, Kansas City football player and Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma citizen James Winchester dedicated the championship to his late father, Mike.
“This one’s for you, Dad,” Winchester tweeted the morning after Kansas City beat the San Francisco 49ers 31-20 in Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2 in Miami. The tweet featured a photo of Winchester holding the Lombardi Trophy after the win with his family on the football field. His dad, a punter in 1980’s at the University of Oklahoma, died in 2016.
Winchester spoke highly of his dad to Native journalist Eric Bailey and the Tulsa World after the game.
“I can see the big grin on his face,” Winchester said. “I’m very grateful and thankful for dad and what he still means to us today.”
Winchester, 30, literally had a hand in Kansas City’s comeback win against San Francisco. Winchester is the team’s long snapper, a special team’s specialist. He competed in a handful of plays in the close game via punt formation and extra point kicking attempts.
The team plans to celebrate the win with fans back in Missouri at a parade and rally on Feb. 5.
Winchester is in his fourth season with Kansas City after signing as a free agent. He briefly played with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013. Kansas City targeted him after a free agent camp in Arizona.
As confetti fell to the football field and the Kansas City celebrated, Winchester could be seen on the field on one knee with a group of teammates. For those that know Winchester, the visual wasn’t a surprise. Winchester holds his faith close, said Brad Beller, the head football coach for Washington High School. Winchester is a graduate of the school and was in high school when Beller was a graduate assistant on Washington’s staff.
“The most inspirational thing, as soon as it was over, he was on the field praying and that's just James, it’s who he is as a person,” Beller said. “He’s not bashful in his faith in Jesus.”
Beller said he hadn’t had a chance to speak with Winchester since the win. “He probably has a million texts.”
Winchester didn’t respond to an interview request from Indian Country Today and the Kansas City NFL franchise declined to make him available, citing player and team fatigue and needing a break.
Winchester is one of the few Native American football players in the NFL. On social media, the Choctaw Nation posted a photo of Winchester, congratulating him on the Super Bowl win. Winchester is part of the tribe’s Inspire What’s Next campaign that sheds light on Choctaw Nation citizens.
“We are very proud of James Winchester’s accomplishments, he served as an inspiration to all of Choctaw Nation proving hard work, dedication, teamwork and strength of spirit leads to wonderful things like the highest of professional football as a Super Bowl champion,” said Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton in statement.
Choctaw Nation posted a short video on Jan. 29 that highlighted Winchester’s story of making it to the NFL.
“For me, it was never guaranteed, you want something so bad but you also are realistic,” Winchester said in the video. “My thing was that I didn't want to get to 30 years old and look back, you know what, if I would have tried a little harder, what could have happened.”
The Oklahoma Sooners football Twitter account tweeted a graphic of three Kansas City players with ties to the college football program. One of the players was Winchester. The others were Damien Williams and Blake Bell. Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley tweeted out a similar image.
Winchester grew up in Washington, Okla., a small town about 15 miles south of Norman, Okla., and the University of Oklahoma. Winchester is one of the few from Oklahoma to play for a state high school football championship, a national championship as a Sooner and in the Super Bowl as a professional.
The entire town was behind him as many took to social media to wish Winchester the best in the big game. Washington Public Schools posted multiple videos praising Winchester and wishing him luck in the big game.
“The town is 100 percent about him,” Beller said. “Not just him being part of a Super Bowl champion, just James who is as a person. In the off season, he’s around, using facilities, speaking to youth groups. He’s one of a kind and has handled everything in stride, he never gave up on his dream.”