AUBURN HILLS “Take it to the house, Chuck!” a fan said to Chuck Winters, who was standing in the end zone, awaiting a kickoff.
With his team, the Detroit Fury, down by 10 points in the second half and desperately needing to win the final home game to make the playoffs in its inaugural season in the Arena Football League Winters knew he had to make something happen.
And returning kicks was what Winters a former Michigan free safety loved to do to satisfy that “offensive hunger” he”s had since his days as a high school running back at Detroit De Porres. For the Fury, he averages over 22 yards per return.
While Winters didn”t take it the full 50 yards for a touchdown, he returned it to inside his opponents” 10-yard line to set up a Fury touchdown and help switch the momentum of the game into his team”s favor. He and his teammates went on to a 66-58 win over the Indiana Firebirds and a berth into the playoffs.
It was a big win in a big game something Winters, 27, can”t remember being a part of since flag football.
“The last big game like this was a flag football game last year,” Winters said. “We were in a key game in a tournament. If we lost we”d go to a loser”s bracket on Sunday and have to win them all to win. But we won the game and won the championship.”
But what about any of the Michigan-Ohio State games?
“Michigan was so far away,” Winters said. “I was out of the game for five years, but when I was done I was done. I never had that hunger to get back into the game. Flag football for me got the hunger back.”
While out of the game, Winters became a jack-of-all-trades.
Starting his own clothing line in New York City, playing minor league baseball, teaching physical education at an elementary school and owning several Hat Zone stores are just a few of his accomplishments.
But a simple game of flag football with his friends helped him realize it was competition that drove him and fueled the fire.
That same competitive fire and hunger made him try out for the Fury in January, where he was the lone player taken out of 209 hopefuls.
“The tryout was just competing,” Winters said. “The word means so much to me it drives me every day.”
It”s not just a saying, rather a way of life for Winters.
The road less traveled
After the game, Winters changes out of his gear, and when his jersey is removed one can notice the name “Malik” tattooed over his heart. It”s in memory of his brother who was killed in a drive-by shooting in Detroit in 1997.
Even closer in his heart is Winters” mother. She is the one he was trying to protect in a highly-publicized confrontation during his senior year of college when he hit her abusive ex-husband with a baseball bat.
Winters never spent time in jail, but Michigan coach Lloyd Carr suspended him for the final games of his senior year in 1996, including the Penn State, Ohio State and the bowl game.
Winters said that while the coaching staff was sympathetic in the newspapers about his situation, he”s never gotten a chance to sit down in the office and talk with them.
“Once everything went down, that was pretty much my last contact with Michigan as far as the coaching staff,” Winters said.
Carr, who recruited Winters, usually doesn”t talk about former players and had no comment.
That time off from Michigan actually helped him start his first business venture. While his teammates were preparing for Penn State, he was at home with a few of his friends. After noticing the new FUBU gear on a trip to the mall, Winters jokingly proclaimed he”d start his own clothing line.
Little did he know his dream would come true literally.
“I fell asleep and woke up in the middle of the night and the words “Last Play” stuck in my head and I couldn”t get back to sleep.”
“Last Play” referred to a play in Michigan football history that devastated and depressed Michigan fans for years the 1994 “Hail Mary” pass from Colorado”s Kordell Stewart that bounced off both Winters and Ty Law before landing in Michael Westbrook”s hands for the winning touchdown.
But this time “Last Play” helped Winters make a score of his own. He teamed up with a fellow student and Michigamua member, whom Winters also said created cartoons for The Michigan Daily. After faxing his proposal to his friend – an investor – the wheels were put in motion.
The clothing line is sold in a couple stores in New York City – but he still itched to do something else.
So after his short stint as a physical education teacher at an elementary school in Southfield, Winters started applying for jobs and found himself in the right spot at the right time again. He crossed paths with an old teammate from the Michigan baseball team, where Winters said he played sporadically over his years there.
In fact, in Winters junior year, he went right from Spring football practice to the diamond, shed his pads and jumped right into centerfield. This type of
double-session is something Winters said he”d never trade in.
“That made me so much of a stronger person,” Winters said. “I had to perform on the football field, baseball field and keep my grades up.”
One of Winters” teammates at Michigan was the owner of the company “Hat Zone.”
The common bond from Michigan allowed him to let Winters in on a business venture in owning a store in the Northland Mall. Now Winters has a hand in
stores in St. Louis, Kansas City, Minnesota and Hawaii.
“The things you go through at Michigan, it bonds you together for the rest of your life,” said Winters, who keeps in touch with most of his former teammates like Ty Law, Jarrett Irons and Charles Woodson.
“Its like a fraternity.”
Home, sweet home
Nearly one-half hour after the Fury win, Winters sits in “his office” the training table – when a team official yells:
“They”re waiting for you, Chuck.”
A group of fans are waiting for Winters to come out of the Palace lockerroom to sign some autographs. Winters excuses himself and spends an ample amount of time with the greeters – displaying the strong character that is one of the many qualities the Fury coaches point out when talking about him.
“Well, he plays like a Michigan guy. He”s absolutely tenacious in everything he does,” Fury assistant coach Rod Humenuik said. “He exemplifies how they
(Michigan players) are. He”s a coachable guy, even at this level. As a player, he hits you like a freight train and runs like a deer. You can”t really find
a fault in him. Character is outstanding – I enjoy him as one of the best guys to be around.”
Even though the Fury”s playoff run was ended by the Arizona Rattlers this past Saturday night, 52-44, Winters has made his mark on the football field again to the point where he will most likely still be returning kicks, catching passes and covering wide receivers for the Fury next season.
“I”m in a perfect situation,” said Winters, who”s hometown is Detroit. “I got my store down here, play ball out here, from here. Unless they give me
127-million like C-Webb, then I”d be out.”
All joking aside, when Winters decides to leave, he”ll have plenty of options, which stems from the philosophy he learned at Michigan.
Does that include playing in the National Football League?
“It”s a goal of mine, but if it don”t happen, I”m still going to be happy to get up in morning and say “I”m a professional athlete, I”m an entrepreneur.
“That, to me not many guys 26-27 years old can say that. From where I come from, of being down and out, with all the stuff I had been through at times with only ten dollars in my pocket I”ve been blessed.”