Sammy Winder: A Golden Eagle Great
In 1980-1981, Southern Miss football was a must-watch event, going 18-5 over that 2-year stretch. During the 1980 season, running back Sammy Winder stood out among his peers. A hard-charging runner with a nose for the endzone, he rushed the ball across the goal line 20 times that season.
From Walk-on to Scholarship Player
Winder came to Southern Miss as a walk-on in 1977 from Madison, MS (Madison-Ridgeland High School), eventually earning a scholarship.
In 1978, Winder rushed for 340 yards and 4 touchdowns. He rushed for 749 yards and 3 TDs in 1979.
Winder had a Breakout Season in 1980
The Golden Eagles soared in the 1980 season, winning their first six games to start the season, including wins over in-state rivals Ole Miss (28-22) and Mississippi State (42-14).
Winder did not disappoint, scoring 20 rushing touchdowns, which led the country that year. He posted five games with 3 rushing touchdowns in each.
- 136 yards, 3 TDs vs East Carolina
- 97 yards, 3 TDs vs Ole Miss
- 3 TDs vs Mississippi State
- 167 yards, 3 TDs vs Lamar
- 3 TDs vs Richmond
Southern Miss finished the ’80 season with a 9-3 record. They defeated McNeese State in the Independence Bowl 16-14.
1981 Season- Two 1000-yard Rushers
Winder rushed for 1029 yards and 12 touchdowns in 1981. Along with QB Reggie Collier rushing for 1005 yards, that gave the Golden Eagles two 1000-yard rushers in the same season.
As a result, Winder was drafted in the 5th round of the 1982 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos.
Winder was off to the NFL: 1982-1990
Winder had a steady career at the pro level and produced and made plays when needed. He helped lead the Broncos to four AFC titles and three Super Bowl appearances.
He also participated in one of the most improbable victories in the history of pro football.
Sammy Winder and The “Drive”
One of the greatest comebacks in NFL history occurred in the 1987 AFC Championship Game between the Broncos and the Cleveland Browns on the road at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. That comeback is known as the “Drive”.
Denver was down 20-13 in the fourth quarter. Because of a mishandled punt, the Broncos would start their comeback from their own 2-yard line.
98 yards stood between them and victory.
Winder’s number was called on three consecutive plays: a 5-yard pass completion, and a 3-yard run. On third down and 2 yards to gain for a first down, Winder took the handoff from QB John Elway and ran up the middle to gain those crucial 2 yards.
That conversion kept the drive alive.
The Broncos drove down the field and scored to tie the game at 20-20 to send it into overtime. Denver won the game on a 33-yard field goal and secured a berth in the Super Bowl.
In the 1988 AFC title game against those same Browns, Winder scored on a 20-yard Elway pass to break a 31-31 tie. Denver survived and advanced once again to the Super Bowl.
And in his final season as a pro, Winder scored 2 touchdowns against Cleveland to help the Broncos to victory in the 1990 AFC Championship Game and yet another Super Bowl appearance.
Achievements and Accolades
Winder rushed for 5,427 yards and 48 regular season touchdowns during his pro career and was a 2X Pro Bowler. He rushed for 1153 yards in 1984.
In 1985, Winder played against the Steelers less than 2 weeks after having arthroscopic surgery on his knee.
Winder led the AFC in scoring in 1987 (13 TDs). He is 2nd in Broncos franchise history in touchdowns scored. In addition, he set a Denver single-season record by scoring 14 touchdowns in 1986.
Winder is a member of both the USM Athletics Hall of Fame and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.
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