The quarterback from Bremerton had to get a three-day pass from the Army in order to play in the 1952 game. He broke his own national passing record against the Cougars.
Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from Adam Jude’s new book, “100 Things Every Washington Fan Should Know & Do Before They Die,” reprinted with the permission of Triumph Books. Copyright 2017.
From the perspective of a modern-day football enthusiast, the statistics for Don Heinrich’s final game in a Husky uniform hardly jump off the page. The quarterback’s passing numbers in the 1952 Apple Cup included a mere seven completions, on 16 attempts, for 145 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Again, hardly impressive upon first glance.
Consider, though, that the forward pass was still something of a novelty of the era. Consider also that the game was played in a 25-degree chill two days after Thanksgiving at Spokane’s Joe Albi Stadium, hardly ideal conditions for throwing a football. Consider, too, the significance of those seven completions, which gave Heinrich a total of 137 completions in his senior season — breaking his own national passing record (of 133 completions) from 1950. Impressive, indeed.
Oh, and the Huskies beat the rival Cougars, 33-27, on that cold November day, capping one of the most accomplished careers in UW history.
For a while, however, Heinrich’s availability for that 1952 Apple Cup was very much in doubt.
Earlier that month, Heinrich had been drafted by the Army — he had previously served in the Army Reserve, and as war raged in Korea, Congress had earlier that year enacted the Reserve Forces Act — and he was required to report to Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma on Nov. 24.
He needed to secure a three-day weekend pass from the Army just to play in the Huskies’ final game that season. And two days after his record-setting finish for the Huskies, he was in a private’s uniform to begin his Army career.
Heinrich was a two-time All-American for the Huskies and set nearly every school passing record in 1949, ’50 and ’52 (a shoulder injury kept him out in 1951), completing 335 completions out of 610 attempts for 4,392 yards — records that stood for more than 20 years, until Sonny Sixkiller arrived at UW.
Heinrich was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987 and was named the quarterback on the Huskies’ centennial team in 1990.
Before coming to UW, Heinrich had already built a legendary reputation as one of the best prep players in Washington state history, a reputation cemented when the 6-foot, 165-pound quarterback led Bremerton High to a 19-14 victory over Ballard in the 1947 state-championship game. After the game, The Seattle Times’ Jim Duff wrote “that anything said about Don Heinrich is an understatement.”
“Don was something special in the huddle,” Jim Wiley, a teammate of Heinrich at Bremerton and the UW, said years later. “He had the knack of making everybody feel he was important. After a half-dozen or so plays in a game, he would start asking the linemen questions: ‘OK, what have you got to tell me? Who’ve you found that’s soft?”
After his sensational UW career, Heinrich played six seasons in the NFL, helping the New York Giants reach three championship games, and winning the NFL championship in 1956. During his time in New York, Heinrich split QB duties with Charlie Conerly.
“Vince Lombardi was the offensive coordinator at the time and he would start Heinrich, and then replace him with Charlie Conerly,” said Giants running back Frank Gifford, the NFL’s most valuable player in 1956 and a close friend of Heinrich. “It was a frustrating arrangement, but neither quarterback complained, and Don and Charlie became close friends.”
After his playing career ended, Heinrich remained around football as coach and broadcaster. He was an NFL assistant coach with the Giants, Los Angeles Rams, Dallas, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. In 1976, he became the color analyst on the radio broadcasts of Seattle Seahawks games, and he later worked as an analyst for the Huskies. He also worked for HBO to call two world boxing championship fights.
Heinrich remained close to UW football throughout his life, and even had a hand in helping Don James land the Huskies’ coaching job in December 1974. Earlier that year, Heinrich and James, then the coach at Kent State, had met during the buildup to the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremonies, and when the UW coaching job came open, Heinrich called UW athletic director Joe Kearney to recommend James.
“His was the first name to pop into my mind,” Heinrich said. “I mentioned this to a number of people. I told Kearney he should look at James very carefully.”
In turn, more than 17 years later, at around 8 a.m. on January 2, 1992, James rang Heinrich; the UW coach wanted the former UW quarterback to be one of the first to hear the news that the Huskies had claimed a share of the 1991 national championship. Heinrich had been battling pancreatic cancer and was unable to attend the Huskies’ Rose Bowl victory over Michigan the day before.
“He said, ‘You’re part of this,’ which, of course, is a nice thing to say,” Heinrich said.
Less than two months later, on Feb. 29, 1992, Heinrich died at age 62 after a bout with cancer.