Antoine Winfield Sr. laughed about the depth his relatives provided on the banquet's seating chart.
“We're deep tonight,” he quipped.
Winfield's family members filled three or four tables Saturday night at Guy's Party Center, where they watched his induction into the Akron Public Schools Athletics Hall of Fame. His mother and grandparents were among those in attendance.
“This is special, this being my hometown,” Winfield, who played 14 NFL seasons and made three Pro Bowls, told the Beacon Journal. “Akron Garfield, I had so many family members come through that school. I've seen my coaches, old teammates that I haven't seen in decades. It's exciting just to get back here and see the smiles on their faces, and they're just telling how proud of me they are. I love every minute of it.”
During Winfield's induction speech, he thanked family, friends, teammates and coaches. He told a story about nearly committing to Michigan State as a Garfield senior, only to change his mind and choose Ohio State after a conversation with former longtime Golden Rams coach Bill McGee. Seated in the back of the ballroom, McGee responded by giving Winfield a thumbs up.
“You guys pushed me to be the best that I possibly could,” said Winfield, who starred as a cornerback with the Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings. “I work, really, for you. To see the smiles on your face every time I come off the field, the yells and screams from the [stands], I loved it. You guys made a difference.”
Antoine Winfield Sr. says he'll bring family to FirstEnergy Stadium to watch son and Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the Cleveland Browns
Winfield lives in The Woodlands, Texas, but he's planning another Akron homecoming for the week of Thanksgiving. His oldest son, Antoine Winfield Jr., is a Pro Bowl safety for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Bucs will visit the Browns on Nov. 27 at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“I'll come in for Thanksgiving,” Winfield said. “I'll rent out a place, have my whole family for Thanksgiving, just see them for a couple days, and I'll probably get about 40 to 50 tickets. We'll be at the Browns' stadium on Sunday.
“My grandparents haven't been able to travel to see [Winfield Jr.] play. This will be their first time seeing him play in person [in the NFL]. It's going to be fun.”
The elder Winfield chuckled and insisted “no, no, no” when asked if he was a bit jealous when his son won Super Bowl 55 as a Buccaneers rookie to end the 2020 season. Winfield Sr. appeared in seven playoff games, but he never advanced to a Super Bowl. A month before the Bucs drafted Winfield Jr. in the second round (No. 45 overall) out of the University of Minnesota, they signed future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady.
“I told him draft day he was going to win a Super Bowl,” said Winfield, who played safety and halfback for Garfield. “I didn't know it was going to be that year.”
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“He's living his dream," Winfield said. “I know how important this is for him. He's excited, and I'm really living through him now.”
Winfield, 45, retired from the NFL after the 2012 season. Now he owns a CBD warehouse and distribution company and spends the weekends traveling to Buccaneers games.
“I knew early on in [Winfield Jr.'s] career that he had the goods to make it to the NFL,” Winfield said. “This has been special just to watch him live his dream, just to see the smile on his face every time he makes a play out there. We talk throughout the week. We watch film together. I'm just so proud of him.”
Former Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield Sr. explains he learned how to become an elite tackler on the streets of Akron
If Winfield Jr. ever needs reminded how to execute a textbook tackle, he should look no farther than his dad's old game film. When Winfield was introduced during the Akron Public Schools ceremony, someone in the crowd yelled, “Best tackler ever!”
McGee has explained Winfield's high school coaches cannot take credit. Winfield arrived at Garfield with his trademark tackling skills, McGee said.
“I learned on the streets of South Akron playing with neighborhood kids,” Winfield said. “My friends, older cousins, we would play football from sun up to sun down, tackle in the streets — wherever. That's why I had no fear. No pads. So once I was 8 years old and I got some pads on [in pee-wee football], I had no fear. I wasn't scared of contact, so I would run into anything. And then I just learned. Over the years, I learned to get low, wrap and run through contact.
“Sports was my thing. A lot of my older family members, my cousins, uncles, played football, and I wanted to follow in their footsteps. I wanted to do what they were doing. I figured out at an early age I was really good. This was my path to success. I worked my butt off, stayed out of trouble, did the right things, had a great following, a great support system, and I was fortunate things worked out for me.”
Akron Public Schools assistant athletic director Ron Linger, an East graduate and former Central-Hower coach, introduced Winfield at the banquet by encapsulating his Garfield career.
“It's hard for a guy from East to admit it,” Linger said, “but I'm telling you I don't know that I've ever seen anybody better — ever.
“I remember when you came out as a freshman and you started changing games on defense, which was unheard of at the time.”
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In 2014, Winfield was inducted into the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame. This past weekend, he relished going into the Akron version with many loved ones there to see it.
“My No. 1 goal was to make you proud,” he said. “Mission accomplished, Winfields. We enter our second hall of fame.”
Next month, they'll enter FirstEnergy Stadium while another Winfield continues to build a legacy.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter: @ByNateUlrich.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Antoine Winfield eager to watch son, Buccaneers play Browns