Friday Night Legend: Danny Winecoff

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 11, 2009

By Mike London
One room of Danny Winecoff’s home is devoted to the dozens of deer shot in the lifetime of a person whose leisure hours have been devoted to hunting.
Dangling below the racks of antlers are scuffed red football shoes, a fond memory of his days as an athlete.
There’s just one visible trophy, the 1954 state tournament MVP award presented to Winecoff’s father. A Marine wounded in World War II, R.T. Winecoff became a fast-pitch softball whiz for Cartex Mills.
“Old-timers will remember that name,” Winecoff said. “Softball was big.”
Winecoff’s athletic ability and iron will came from his father. Winecoff’s legs ó with calves twice the usual size ó came from the Atwells on his mother’s side.
In a corner of the deer room is a hope chest. Winecoff carved it in shop class at Salisbury High and presented it to his girlfriend, Wanda. She knew marriage was in the cards from the time they started dating at Knox Junior High.
She knew it even after her family moved and she went to South Rowan. She wore Winecoff’s football letter jacket every day. Few gave her any grief. Everyone knew who Winecoff was.
“The day Danny gave me that hope chest, it brought tears to my eyes,” Wanda said. “By the time we got out of school, I had it filled up with trophies and all the letters Danny was getting.”
Letters came from all over in those days. Notre Dame, Michigan, USC, Tennessee. You name it.
Winecoff wasn’t just a good high school player, he was a great one. He was All-State. He made at least one All-America team. A recruiting magazine declared him one of the nation’s top 100.
In 1973 and 1974, he was Rowan County Defensive Player of the Year. Twice, he was Rowan County Athlete of the Year, sharing one award with East beast Darrell Misenheimer
Winecoff was a quality discus thrower. He was a Shrine Bowler. He was an East-West All-Star.
It started for him as it did for most kids in the mill neighborhoods. Touch and tackle football on the sandlots. Then the junior league.
By the time Winecoff arrived at Knox, coach Pete Stout and his assistants had a defensive-minded dynasty rolling over at the high school.
“I don’t remember us losing any at Knox,” Winecoff said. “We’d watch Salisbury play, and they used the same system we did. The one guy I always watched was Robert Pulliam.”
Pulliam was the best of many great SHS players who formed a steady parade to the Shrine Bowl under D-line coach Charlie Little’s direction.
The Hornets employed the “60” defense. Two ends, two tackles and two guards ó a six-man front that dared teams to throw. If you insisted on running the ball, well, God bless you.
Winecoff was on the jayvees as a sophomore, but an injury led to a varsity callup for the third game of the 1972 season against Albemarle.
The Hornets were 8-2 that year and allowed only two TDs while sweeping four county rivals. But they finished third in the SPC. They missed the playoffs.
“Everyone in that league was tough,” Winecoff said. “But the county games were also important. We never lost one. North would always have a great back. We’d always shut him down.”
By 1973, Winecoff was a standout at defensive guard, and the Hornets climbed to second place in the SPC. His future wife, his sisters and members of both families rang cowbells whenever Winecoff slammed a quarterback to the ground. It was a sound that became very familiar at Ludwig Stadium.
“I wasn’t all that big, but I could move and get around blockers,” Winecoff said. “They didn’t keep many stats, but I had a lot of sacks and averaged a lot of tackles. I don’t know how they could single out just one guy though. We had great defenses. Lots of athletes.”
Thomasville finished 7-0-1 to win the SPC regular season in 1973. The only blemish was a ferocious 14-14 tie with second-place Salisbury.
The SPC playoff game between Salisbury and Thomasville produced a shocking result. The Hornets won 52-0.
“The Post predicted us to lose,” Winecoff said with a laugh. “I went to see a game last Friday (Salisbury beat Carson 50-6) about like it. Just a night when everything bounced our way.”
Salisbury slaughtered Mooresville 42-12 the next week for the Piedmont championship. Then it shut out Watauga 13-0 for Stout’s first outright WNCHSAA title.
In 1974, the Hornets defended their crown. While winning back-to-back WNCHSAA championships, they posted nine shutouts and never gave up more than 16 points. The 1973 team allowed 7.2 points a game. In 1974, it was 6.0.
The tone for that special 1974 season was set opening night when the Hornets took on a good East Rowan team.
Salisbury QB Mike Cansler was hurt, and most of the offense was new as it put a nine-year county winning streak on the line.
The defense was still stout, with Winecoff moving to tackle for his senior year.
With 90 seconds left, Salisbury led 6-0, but East had fourth-and-goal at the 1.
The Hornets were sure running back Kizer Sifford was coming behind the 250-pound Misenheimer. Winecoff clogged up the play. End Tony Leach made the tackle.
The climactic game of that 11-2 season was the WNCHSAA championship game at Shelby, a program that had beaten Pulliam and the Hornets in 1970.
Salisbury coaches learned through the grapevine that the Lions were painting their shoes gold for the big game.
After a vote, Salisbury players answered by painting their shoes bright red.
Salisbury trailed 3-0 most of the night. Wanda swears her husband went a little nuts. Winecoff was the crazy white guy screaming at his 10 black buddies in the defensive huddle that they needed to pick it up. They picked it up. Salisbury won 14-3.
Winecoff weighed 207 pounds as a senior. He regrets not going to Catawba. Instead, he accepted an offer from Elon.
They tried him at nose guard. His roommate ó and competition ó was a 275-pound senior. He remembers it being pretty intimidating, but he must have done OK. He lettered.
That was it for football, and Winecoff came home.
He’s worked at the plant now known as Performance Fibers Operations the past 33 years through good times and bad.
He and Wanda didn’t have any boys. Their daughters went to North Rowan.
“No football players, but some good flag girls,” Winecoff said. “I remember North making it to the state championship game (1992) when the girls were there.”
The grandsons are coming along now. Someday Winecoff will tell them what those red shoes are all about.