CHATHAM, NJ - Don Herrmann, the kid who grew up on Ramapo Trail in Chatham Township, is the first graduate of Chatham High to make a career in the National Football League.
From the very first day he touched a football, Herrmann had a dream to become a pro football player. Not only did he achieve that goal with a nine-year NFL career with the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints, he's still the only athlete from Chatham to reach that elite level in football.
"From the day I picked up a ball, it was just something I wanted to do," said Herrmann, who sat down with TAPinto Chatham to reminisce recently. "I just enjoyed it. At Chatham, and my first two years at Waynesburg (University, Pa.), when I said something like that they laughed at me for thinking I was going to play professional football."
A wide receiver in the NFL, Herrmann was a running back at Chatham in the 1960's and the most passes he ever caught in a season was eight. He played under coach Herm Hering on Chatham teams that went 7-2 and 6-3 in his junior and senior years, respectively. His Chatham teammates included Jim "Duke" Krause, Al Twaits, Ed Klesse, Bob Gadkowski and Steve Pfeiffer.
"We just didn't throw the ball," he said. "I needed to go to a small school to develop. I really did. The best thing that happened was that I was turned down when I tried to transfer to Purdue and stayed at Waynesburg. I grew and inch and a half and put on 20 pounds in college. Playing at a small school, I got a chance to play."
The turning point for him was when his coach at Waynseburg, Carl DePasqua, who later became an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, spoke to him after a practice.
"He came in one day after practice and he sat down next to me in the locker room," Herrmann said. "He said, 'You know, from now on you have to take your game and get better. You can be a lot better.' No one had ever said something like that to me. It really motivated me to work harder."
National Champion and 15th-Round Draft Pick
Herrmann wasn't recruited anywhere, but he enrolled at Waynesburg University in Pennsylvania and signed up to play football.
"I happened to hit it at the right time at Waynesburg," he said. "We had three guys who went to the pros. My brother-in-law, Joe Righetti, played for the Cleveland Browns and Dave Smith played for the Pittsburgh Steelers."
He was a member of the Waynesburg team that won the 1966 NAIA National Championship for "Small Schools" with an 11-0 record. Herrmann later got noticed in his senior year on a team that averaged 60 points per game.
"My senior year, I had over 1,000 yards receiving and 20 touchdowns," he said. "In a game against Lock Haven, I made 18 catches and seven of them were touchdowns. I had 318 receiving yards that day."
At that time, the NFL had 17 rounds of the draft and the Giants selected him in the 15th round.
"Baltimore called on the 10th round and they asked me if I could go deep," Herrmann said. "I told them that our practice field was 40 yards long, because it was cut off by the woods. The facilities out there were rough, it wasn't like Chatham. I told them, I don't know, we don't throw deep that much. They passed and the Giants called five rounds later."
It Wasn't for the Money
When Herrmann made the Giants team out of camp, he boosted his salary to $18,000 for his rookie year.
"When I got there, I was in awe of everyone," he said. "I used to write letters to my wife and I told her I'm not going to make this team, these guys are big and fast. Every day I worked and worked and worked and got better. I did well in the scrimmages and then in the exhibition season I caught a touchdown against the Eagles and another one against the Vikings."
Allie Sherman was the Giants coach at the time, but he was fired after the preseason and Alex Webster took over. Webster stayed five years.
"I got $14,000 that year and I got a $2,500 signing bonus and $1,500 if I made the club for the first game. They had a minor league system then. The Long Island Bulls was the minor league team and they were going to send me there first. I had a really good camp and they kept me for opening day."
In the 1969 NFL opener for the Giants played at Yankee Stadium, Herrmann caught two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter from quarterback Fran Tarkenton to rally the Giants from a 23-10 deficit and defeat the Minnesota Vikings, 24-23. It was the first time Tarkenton faced his old team, the Vikings, since he was traded to the Giants.
"You learn how to set a guy up to get by him," Herrmann said. "The touchdown I caught against the Vikings to win it, they call a post corner. I was really good at running it. When the back closed in, I'd break it to the corner. One-on-one, the advantage is with the receiver. I was told that I caught the ball inside really well. I caught one with the Saints and I was knocked out cold. I woke up and they put me right back in the game."
Herrmann played with Tarkenton as his quarterback for three years before the Giants traded Tarkenton back to the Vikings in exchange for quarterback Norm Snead. Injuries led to Herrmann's release from the Giants in 1975, but he was later picked up by the New Orleans Saints.
"I got hurt twice and Bill Arnsparger was the Giants coach then," Herrmann said. "I missed the last half of the season and then I came back in the exhibition season and I got hurt again and they cut me. The Saints picked me up with three games to go in 1975. My second game back was against the Giants and I caught a touchdown. We lost, but I caught a touchdown."
Herrmann received his highest salary as a member of the Saints, where he made $65,000 and received an additional $2,500 for being one of the top 22 players on the roster.
"It was a good living at that time," Herrmann said. "When I was in New Orleans. Hank Stram and Sam Rutigliano were my coaches and I learned a lot about reading defenses from them. Sam would click that film and ask what defense they were in. You had to learn to recognize the defense they were playing to e successful."
During his time with the Giants, Herrmann earned a reputation as a guy who wasn't afraid to run the slant patterns over the middle.
"I could separate from guys, which was always a big thing, and I could catch slants," Herrman said. "A lot of guys don't want to catch slants. We had a guy, Clifton McNeil, who led the league in catches when he was with San Francisco (1968). All our even numbers were inside routes and all the odd numbers were outside. In the huddle Fran (Tarkenton) would say, what you got? and McNeil would say I got 1-3-5-7. Fran would ask, nothing inside? He would say, no."
Herrmann played at 6-2, 195 pounds when he was with the Giants and wore No. 85.
"Today, I'd be the biggest receiver on Giants," he said. "They're all 5-9 or 5-10 (Odell Beckham Jr. is listed as 5-11).
Has Ties to Chatham Borough and Chatham Township
Herrmann played football at Chatham High from 1962 through 1965 and was a two-way player as a senior. Although he was from the township, he never played football as a Gladiator. He played for the Eskies because that was the Chatham High mascot at the time when the high school was in the borough.
"My senior class was the last one before they split into two high schools," Herrmann said. "That was great because I met my wife, Anne Halsey, who is from the borough. I sat next to her in Algebra class. I wouldn't have met her if there had been two high schools at the time. My sister and I went to high school in the borough and my two younger brothers went to the township."
Hermann's younger brothers Glenn and Wayne also played football in Chatham and at Waynesburgh University. After college, they both played for the Bridgeport Jets in the Atlantic Coast League.
After his football career, Herrmann, now 70 and living in Mendham, went into building custom homes.
Leather Helmets, No Concussions
Herrmann noted that the Chatham High team still wore leather helmets when he played, even though other schools were switching to the more modern ones at that time.
"I never saw anyone with a concussion," he said.
Statistics courtesy of the NFL