Coach Don James obviously had a lot on his mind when his Washington Huskies played Michigan in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.
But he wasn’t too preoccupied to try to reach his friend, Don Heinrich, who was seriously ill in Saratoga, Calif.
After trying to contact Heinrich from his hotel and later from the stadium by cellular phone, James finally reached Heinrich after the game, which Washington won to get a share of the national championship with Miami. “I called him because it was a great day for the Huskies,” James told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “And because he was in a fight (for his life).”
Heinrich, 62, Washington’s only two-time All-American quarterback, died Saturday of pancreatic cancer at his home in Saratoga.
Heinrich led the nation in passing in 1950 and 1952, and was a teammate of famed running back Hugh McElhenny. Heinrich then played for the New York Giants (1954-1959), Dallas Cowboys (1960) and Oakland Raiders (1962).
Frank Gifford, a former USC tailback and NFL Hall of Fame running back with the Giants, said Tuesday that New York had a unique quarterback arrangement when Heinrich was with the team.
“Vince Lombardi was the offensive coordinator at the time and he would start Heinrich, and then replace him with Charlie Conerly,” Gifford said Tuesday. “It was a frustrating arrangement, but neither quarterback complained, and Don and Charlie became close friends.”
It was a successful formula, though, as the Giants played in three NFL championship games with Heinrich and Conerly sharing the quarterback job.
Heinrich later became an assistant coach with the Rams in 1963 and 1964 under Harland Svare, a former Giant teammate. Heinrich was also an assistant coach with Dallas, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, the Giants and San Francisco before he began his broadcasting career. He was a radio analyst on games for the Seattle Seahawks from 1976-81, before broadcasting 49er games in a similar capacity.
More recently, he was the analyst on Pacific 10 football games for Prime Ticket Network. He was also the associate publisher of Don Heinrich’s College Football annual.
Wendell Niles, Jr., a TV producer and a kicker on the Husky teams of the early 1950s, said that Heinrich was a very accurate passer for that era. He completed 60.9% of his passes in 1950, a figure that was exceeded only once in the Pac-10 during the next 26 years.
Heinrich learned last June that he had cancer. “It’s devastating, but I refuse to let it beat me down,” he said at the time.
He continued broadcasting Pac-10 games last season.
Heinrich is survived by his wife, Barbara, three sons, a daughter, and nine grandchildren. His son, Kyle, played for Washington from 1976-78.