BEREA, Ohio (Aug. 30, 2005) -- His muscular body thinner and his face gaunt from fighting a staph infection, Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow resolved he would one day return to play in the NFL.
"I'm going to come back from this," he said.
The tight end's 2005 season ended before it began when he underwent knee surgery on June 14 to repair ligaments torn in a motorcycle accident on May 1. On Aug. 30, Winslow spoke extensively to reporters for the first time since the crash, which cost him millions of dollars and damaged his reputation.
Sitting in front of his locker, Winslow was contrite and quiet.
"I made a mistake," Winslow said. "I just have to prove everybody wrong and come back from it."
Winslow revealed that he has had the staph infection in his right leg for six weeks, a setback that was not divulged by the Browns during their training camp. Winslow still has a catheter inserted in a vein of his left arm for antibiotics.
Winslow doesn't know how he got the bacterial infection, which typically enters the body through an open cut or break in the skin. He said it prevented him from being out on the field to watch practice.
"Doctors don't really know where staph comes from. The surgical incision right here," he said, touching his right knee. "I think it was probably from Vitamin E. I was rubbing it on there, I think it might have got infected from that. It's normal."
Nothing has been normal about Winslow's brief career with Cleveland. The former first-round draft pick broke his right leg while recovering an onside kick last season, prematurely finishing his rookie year.
Winslow was still recovering from that injury when he lost control of his high-powered motorcycle while practicing stunts in a secluded parking lot near his home. He was thrown over the bike's handlebars and into a wooded area, suffering serious injuries that required a nine-day hospital stay.
Winslow said he was aware there was a "dangerous activities" clause in his contract that prohibited him from riding motorcycles.
"It was a mistake," Winslow said. "I just have to prove to Cleveland and prove to myself mostly that I can do this and come back."
Because of the contract breach, the Browns withheld some bonus money Winslow was due. However, the club has decided to restructure his deal to allow the 21-year-old to earn back some of the lost wages. Winslow said the reworked contract has not been finalized.
"They're still talking," he said.
Winslow appreciates the Browns' willingness to forgive him and their faith that he can still be a productive player.
"They are true to their word," he said. "Other organizations wouldn't have done that. Other organizations might have gone another way, might have released me. They know the type of person I am, a hard worker. I'm going to come back from this."
Winslow says he weighs 225 pounds, down from his listed weight of 254. He has been doing four hours of grueling rehabilitation per day.
"They bend my knee to where I'm almost crying," he said. "It's very painful. It's the swelling that hurts the most. The bruising takes a while to heal."
Winslow said despite the setbacks, he is more determined than ever to make a complete recovery.
"Everything happens for a reason," he said. "I got hurt the year before that, and I was like, 'Why is this happening to me? Why is this happening to me?' But you know, it's really not that bad. There's bigger stuff going on in the world. I'm going to come back from this."
Winslow was asked if missing last season pushed him toward taking up motorcycle riding as a hobby.
"No, I just had an interest in bikes as many players do," he said. "I'm an edgy kind of guy. I like stuff like that. I met a friend who had a bike and he taught me how to ride and we would go riding sometimes. It was just an unfortunate thing that happened. I lost control. It happens."
Winslow swears nothing like it will happen again.
"I'm more wise," he said. "I'll be more wise about decisions. You think you're invincible, young. So I did learn from this. I just have to make better decisions."