Jeff Winans stood 6-foot-5, weighed 265 pounds in his prime and tilted the football field when he walked onto it.
To watch him play, old-timers explain, was to witness a gifted athlete, a beast on the prowl. Those who sat in the bleachers during his years under the lights at Turlock High and Modesto Junior College won't soon forget him.
"Jeff was a presence," recalled Dan Gonsalves, Grace Davis High's first coach. "I scouted one of Turlock's games and after I got home my wife said I didn't look too good. I told her, 'I just saw Winans play.' "
Winans lived a life as large as the man himself. He was a defensive lineman for the unbeaten USC Trojans of 1972, one of the best-ever collegiate teams, and played for four NFL teams including the 1976 Super Bowl champion Oakland Raiders between 1973 and '78.
On Dec. 21, Winans' body was found in his Turlock home. He had fallen ill over Thanksgiving, though those closest to him thought he had recovered. He was 61.
The price Winans paid for that life, especially those 35 games in the NFL, was too harsh.
It wasn't worth the Super Bowl ring he eventually received after a stubborn fight with Al Davis (he was injured early in the '76 season).
It wasn't worth the many back and neck surgeries, the torn patella, the multiple concussions and the career that was finished at 30.
After that, Winans' mental capacity deteriorated, surely due to head trauma. He required large doses of medication to deal with the pain. Wild mood swings followed. In 1984, a gun accident resulted in the amputation of his right leg below the calf muscle.
"Just to be alive at 61 was a miracle," said Brandi Winans, Jeff's wife from 1981 to 2007. "He was the love of my life even though at times I didn't want to admit it."
Winans never had a better friend than Brandi. They raised a son, Travis, a former high school basketball star in St. Petersburg, Fla., who played football for MJC in 2009. The couple had reconciled and planned to remarry in February.
"God waited until we came full circle," she said.
As it turned out, Winans' toughest struggle never took place on the line of scrimmage. Together, he and Brandi fought the NFL for 17 years before he received his Disability Pension.
She wrote in wrenching detail about this period in her 2009 book, "The Flip Side of Glory," now in its second edition. While Jeff's condition worsened, she became the major support system of the household, all while engaging in judicial hand-to-hand combat with the NFL.
"I'll tell you what," Brandi said, "(the NFL) will never forget me."
Winans' life should be a movie, a cautionary tale about the NFL's often cruel consequences.
Jeff and Brandi Winans served on the front line decades ago of a fight that only recently has gained credence. By their diligence, they raised public awareness. Today, the NFL though reluctantly at times is coming to better terms with its wounded warriors.
Its new direction also is seen through today's on-the-field rule-changes and safety measures. The pending lawsuits from concussed or maimed former players are the ultimate payment as the league, though far too late in many cases, charts an improved course.
We can only hope the future Jeff Winans of the NFL will enjoy a healthy football afterlife. If so, his ordeal will lead others toward a better path.
And that already is happening. His brain and spinal chord have been donated to Boston University for medical research.
"He gave me the inspiration to follow through, knowing what he had to battle through," said Travis Winans, a personal trainer. "He showed me that no matter how hard life knocks you down, there is light at the end of the road."
A celebration of Winans' life will be scheduled in late February in Turlock.
"I don't have much time left," he told me in a Turlock coffee shop six years ago. "But what I have left, I want to remember."
We'll never forget you, Jeff.