KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Just last week, Kansas City Chiefs long snapper James Winchester appeared all fired up in the locker room. He bought his dad a new hunting rifle, and couldn’t wait to give it to him.
The father and son loved hunting together as much as they enjoyed football. He planned to give his dad the gift in person, but the rifle shipped directly to his father on accident, Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones explained.
“He had already sent the gun back home,” Jones said, “and he was pretty bummed about that because he wanted to see the look on his daddy’s face to make him proud.”
The story of son wanting to bring a joy to his father takes new meaning following Tuesday’s tragic shooting death of Michael Winchester. A former co-worker at Southwest Airlines allegedly shot and killed the elder Winchester as he left work at the Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City. Police later found the presumed shooter dead from a self-inflicted gun shot wound.
The horrifying events shook Winchester’s coaches and teammates in Kansas City, including head coach Andy Reid.
“Tragic, tragic incident, and sick to be honest with you,” Reid said. “James is with his family now, where he needs to be.”
Center Mitch Morse, along with other teammates, found it difficult to comprehend the loss.
“Unbelievable tragedy,” Morse said. “Words can’t describe how bad you feel for a guy like that. It’s our job to be supportive in anyway we can.”
Chiefs defensive lineman David King texted back and forth with his longtime teammate Tuesday morning when the conversation abruptly ended. He later learned why.
“I know his sister, and met his dad a few times,” King said. “It’s just sad. I didn’t even talk to him after yesterday, because I just know he’s so overwhelmed with that. I texted his wife and told her they have my prayers and condolences, and if they need anything, they know I’m there.”
His relationship with Winchester traces back to 2008, both members of the Oklahoma freshmen class. King arrived as four-star recruit with Winchester a mere walk-on, an all-city wide receiver hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps as a Sooner.
Punter Michael Winchester helped Oklahoma to a national championship in 1985, and took young James to the school’s home games before he even entered kindergarten. His son passed up offers from some small colleges as a receiver to walk-on for the Sooners.
James Winchester wanted to play, and he knew long-snapping might get him on the field. He never played the role before college, but he had some experience. When his father instructed young punters on improving their skills, the James would serve as a snapper.
Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt, who followed his father into the NFL, relates to the connection between James and Michael.
“I think usually it’s a good situation when you end up doing what your dad did because it means your dad instilled a good work ethic in you and passed on something that he believed in,” Colquitt said.
King says that Oklahoma’s strength and conditioning coach Jerry Schmit would challenge Winchester to work harder by invoking his father’s name.
“He’d always say, ‘I’m going to call your dad and tell him you’re not acting right,’” King said. “James would get nervous and call his dad and say, ‘You talk to Schmidty today?’ And his dad would be like, ‘No, why?’ And he’s like ‘Alright, just making sure.’”
When King joined the Chiefs last year, Winchester and his wife opened their home to the big defensive lineman to live with them.
“Just hearing him talking about his parents from the time I was living with them, it’s tough,” King said. “That one hit me hard yesterday because it puts things into perspective real quick.”
Colquitt texted with his teammate after learning the news.
“He basically left me with thanks for the thoughts and prayers and God is good,” Colquitt said.
“He’s a man of faith,” Colquitt said. “I know his dad was too. I think his faith in Christ is going to bring his family through. But that doesn’t change what happened.”