NJ Starz: Don Herrmann Hometown: Chatham

Don Herrmann with New Orleans Saints Mascot, Gumbo (credit: Anne Herrmann)

For New York Giants rookie wide receiver, Don Herrmann, it was a dream game every first-year player perhaps wishes they could live.

The powerful Minnesota Vikings, that season destined for a Super Bowl IV trip against the Kansas City Chiefs, strutted into old Yankee Stadium on September 21, 1969, to open the National Football League season. Herrmann that day played a major role in the Giants defeating Minnesota and their “Purple People Eaters” defense. Herrmann caught two touchdown passes from quarterback Fran Tarkenton, the second on a slant route in the last minute of regulation, to defeat the Vikings, 24 – 23. It was also Alex Webster’s first game as Head Coach, and not only did he get his first win, but was also hoisted onto the shoulders of some of his players at game’s end.

After the game, Herrmann posed for a photo with both Webster and Giants owner, Wellington Mara. “With his arm around me,” Herrmann says of Mara and the photo. “In fact, I have the picture here in my house with Wellington with his arm around me. It was in the New York Times.”

Herrmann initially grew up in Linden, and then as a young teen moved with his family to Chatham. His parents were Harry and Anna, and his siblings were Rachael, Glenn, and Wayne. “My father was a builder, and they were going to put the Jetport in Chatham in the Great Swamp,” Herrmann explains. “He bought a house that was half finished, because they couldn’t sell any of the houses because everybody was afraid of the Jetport going in. He bought a house right on top of a mountain in Chatham and finished the house, and we moved there when I was 13. That’s when I started in the Chatham school system. I was in the seventh grade, and I was the last class from the township to go to the borough. I met my wife, Anne, in the borough. We met in the ninth grade, and when we were in high school, we started dating.”

While a member of and running back for the Chatham High School Eskies, Herrmann was injured in his first practice in high school, and was sidelined for almost the entire year, returning at season’s end to play a few games with the junior varsity team. He returned at full strength for his junior year. “I played as a defensive back most of the time and I played a little bit on offense as a wingback, but we didn’t throw the ball a lot at Chatham,” Herrmann says of the Herm Hering coached club. “My senior year, I played halfback both ways, and I was the leading receiver.” The Eskies posted a 7 – 2 record during Herrmann’s junior year, and they were 6 –3 in his senior year.

Herrmann tried to get into the big schools, knocking on the doors of the likes of Rutgers, Syracuse and more, but there were no takers. He ended up as a walk-on at Waynesburg University in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, which he calls a “blessing.” His future wife also went to the smaller NAIA institution, and it gave Herrmann the chance to also grow as a player. “I wound up going to Waynesburg,” Herrmann says, “and the way the Lord led this thing was the best thing that could happen to me, because I needed time to develop as a player. And also, I wound up marrying my wife, which was the most important thing.”

He did consider leaving after his freshman season and becoming a Purdue Boilermaker, but they didn’t accept him – another blessing. “If I had transferred there, it would have been the biggest mistake of my life, because I wouldn’t have developed as a player,” Herrmann says. “I would have never played at Perdue, and I would’ve never married my wife. “

But under new head coach, Carl DePasqua, he got an 11-win, undefeated season, and a national title at Waynesburg during his sophomore year. During his junior year, Herrmann caught 47 passes as Waynesburg employed more passing as part of their offense, and for his senior campaign under another new head coach, Darrell Lewis, he caught 20 touchdown passes for over 1,000 yards, including one game against Lock Haven University where he had over 300 yards receiving and seven touchdowns.

Herrmann was drafted in round 15 of the 1969 National Football League draft by the Giants, and he went on to play nine seasons in the NFL, six for New York and three for the New Orleans Saints. For his career, he played in 36 games and caught 234 passes for 3,039 years and 16 TDs. He was the first Chatham High School Eskie to play in the NFL.

Herrmann recalls the first time he set foot on the turf of the sports cathedral, Yankee Stadium. “We came up for a practice day before the game. I just remember stepping out of the dugout and looking at the blue seats all over, and the green grass, and I was amazed just looking around at this place.” For his career home games as a Giant, Herrmann in addition to Yankee Stadium played at Shea Stadium and the Yale Bowl in New Haven, Connecticut, and in the Superdome as a New Orleans Saint. However, he never played in Giants Stadium. His lone game against the Giants as a Saint was in New Orleans.

In his first season, the Giants were 6 –8, and in 1970 finished 9 – 5, a 31 – 3 defeat to the Los Angeles Rams in the last game of the season elbowing the Giants out of the playoffs. However, there was another game early in the season that perhaps played a bigger role in the Giants missing the postseason. Herrmann explains. “We lost a game down in New Orleans where Aaron Thomas caught a touchdown, and they ruled it incomplete because of the way to endzone was painted.” Video shows Thomas coming down with the ball well inbounds, but the referee waved his arms to signal “no good” as the play transpired on the left side of the endzone. “And they changed the painting of the endzone after that,” Herrmann adds.

Herrmann caught 165 passes while with the Giants for 2,049 yards and 15 touchdowns, and during his career with both them and the Saints, he played with two NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Tarkenton and Norm Snead, and College Hall of Famer, Archie Manning. “Tarkenton was by far the smartest of all,” Herrmann states. “He was a very accurate thrower. I wouldn’t say he had a strong arm, or he could throw the deep ball, but he was so accurate when he threw the ball. He was by far the smartest, and the best one I thought to play with. Norm Snead, we traded for at the end of his career. He’d played for Washington (Redskins), the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Vikings, and now he comes to New York. And Norm was an accurate thrower, and he could throw the deep ball, too. He was a big guy. He was at the end of his career, but he was still a very, very good quarterback.” After he joined the Saints, Herrmann’s time playing with Manning was limited to three games. “He missed the next year because he had a tendon in his shoulder and they tied it too tight during an operation, so they had to re-operate. He wound up missing the whole year. After that, I split time with quarterbacks Bobby Scott and Bobby Douglas.”

All-in-all for Herrmann, 75, it has been a wonderful life. “I have my jersey from Waynesburg, and the only reason I have anything is because of my wife,” Herrmann says. “They wouldn’t give it to us, so she bought the jersey from the athletic department. She’s my biggest fan.”

Don and Anne Herrmann were married in January of 1971, and have three children – Timothy, Carrie, and Andrew – and the Mendham couple also has four grandchildren. “And that’s really what summarizes my life, because my family is a big part of my life,” Herrmann says happily. “We’re still in close contact with our children. Some people have problems with their children and things like that. We don’t. It’s just been a great relationship and a great ride. And my wife and me? We really are best friends.”

When asked for a closing statement to describe the happiness in his life, Herrmann doesn’t hesitate. “That comes from being a Christian. My faith in Jesus Christ, that’s where it all starts.”

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