25 questions with a “Wilderness Years” wide receiver
Don Herrmann played for the Giants in a time that the defense carried the club most seasons and the offenses were having problems scoring or taking care of the football. In 1970 the Giants were actually a solid club going 9-5-0 to which head coach Alex Webster was named NFL Coach-of-the-Year. However, subsequent seasons for the Giants were horrid and in Herrmann’s final two seasons the club finished 2-11-1 and 2-12-0 amidst offensive problems and numerous coaching changes.
Herrmann was drafted in the 15th round of the 1969 NFL draft and in his very first NFL game as a rookie he caught two TDs from QB Fran Tarkenton to win the game 24-23 over the Vikings. He played six seasons for the Giants with 2,049 yards on 165 receptions and 15 TDs. He would later play three more seasons with the New Orleans Saints and add 990 yards to his career stats.
He was a walk-on at Waynesburg University, a small NAIA college team and made the squad in his freshman year. In his sophomore campaign, Waynesburg captured the national championship after an 11-0-0 season. This still remains the greatest football season the school has ever recorded. Herrmann wed his college sweetheart Anne whom he is still married to today.
Herrmann is a custom home builder in New Jersey and also does commercial remodeling and renovations. His father was in construction and so when Don hung up his cleats, he went into business in a field that he knew all too well. As a kid growing up, after school he was required to help in his dad’s construction business, so to get away from that he went out for football. Big Blue View caught up with Don during a large commercial renovation project.
BBV: After high school you didn’t have any offers to play college football. What was the reason you played football in the first place?
HERRMANN: I liked the sport since the first time I picked up a football. Plus, my dad was in construction and made me work after school. If I played football, that ended the work part of my life.
BBV: You played at the small college Waynesburg University as a walk-on. At that time of your life, would playing at a huge football program at a big school had been a blessing or a curse?
HERRMANN: It would have been a curse. I needed time to develop, and a small school provided that opportunity.
BBV: Waynesburg captured the NAIA national championship in your sophomore season. In your mind did that justify going from a walk-on to now a national champion?
HERRMANN: I didn’t see a connection between the two. I just enjoyed the sport and playing with a bunch of talented players.
BBV: The following season your team defeated Frostburg State 81-0. I know you married your high school sweetheart Anne. How many TDs did she have in that game?
HERRMANN: Anne was there, but the starting team only played two series because it was so lopsided. So, I didn’t even score in that game.
BBV: In 1968 you had seven TDs in a single game and Waynesburg took home their fourth conference title in a row. With all of this school success and you lighting up the scoreboard, did this bring out the NFL scouts?
HERRMANN: Yes, but they were also there to see some other players.
BBV: You were taken in the 15th round of the 1969 NFL draft by the Giants. Going into training camp did you have any expectations of actually making the team?
HERRMANN: I went with the expectations of making the team, but upon arriving I realized the talent level was very high. I just kept working very hard.
BBV: How was an NFL training camp different than an NAIA practice program?
HERRMANN: It had a bigger practice field – It was much more organized – and the possibility of being released always loomed over me.
BBV: Your Giants rookie contract was for $14,000 with a $2,500 signing bonus and a roster bonus of $1,500 if you played in the first game. You almost lost that roster bonus. What was the story behind that?
HERRMANN: The Giants had a farm system at that time, and they were going to move me down to the Long Island Bulls and save the $1,500.00. However, I had a very good camp and pre-season, so they kept me.
BBV: In your rookie season you took over the flanker position from Joe Morrison as he moved to fullback. What was Homer Jones like as the other starting wide receiver?
HERRMANN: Homer was a quiet superstar who could have weighed 220 pounds and still run a 4.5 40-yard dash.
BBV: For your first two seasons your QB Fran Tarkenton made the Pro Bowl. Did he call his own plays or was that an issue with head coach Alex Webster or offensive coordinator Ken Kavanaugh?
HERRMANN: For the most part, Fran called his own plays. They all worked together on the play calling.
BBV: Tarkenton would run but was more of a scrambler in order to throw. When he was running for his life behind the line, how difficult was that for you and the other receivers since now you were all in improvise mode?
HERRMANN: I thought it was easy because you simply broke into the same direction as Fran was running.
BBV: The 1970 season the Giants were actually pretty good and finished in second place in the division with a 9-5-0 mark. Part of the reason was running back Ron Johnson and those blue shoes. What was the story behind those shoes and why wasn’t the entire team wearing a pair?
HERRMANN: Because Puma had a deal with Ron and no one else.
BBV: The seasons 1972 and 1973 were your best with the Giants with a combined 942 yards with seven TDs. Your QB was now the ancient Norm Snead who made the Pro Bowl in 1972. What were the biggest differences between Snead and Tarkenton?
HERRMANN: Norman was strictly a pocket passer and Fran was a scrambler.
BBV: Where did most players hang out after practices and/or games?
HERRMANN: After the games, most of us went out to dinner individually, and then we went home. I can only speak for myself, as I really don’t know where the other guys went.
BBV: You were known for being a guy who wasn’t afraid to run the slant patterns across the middle. Did you attribute this success to being able to separate from the defender?
HERRMANN: I did have moves to separate, however, running slants is simply focusing totally on the catch knowing you’re going to get hit.
BBV: Fran Tarkenton, Norm Snead, Randy Johnson and in your last season with the Giants Craig Morton was the QB. As a player who made his living catching the football, how do you adjust to every nuance and habits of so many quarterbacks and finally get a relationship with the guy tossing the ball?
HERRMANN: Practice, practice, practice!
BBV: In 1974, you were out 11 weeks and had other assorted injuries and missed the last half of the season. What was the most severe?
HERRMANN: A knee injury. In 1975 I was injured in pre-season with a thigh injury, and the Giants released me before the season. After 11 weeks, the New Orleans Saints picked me up for the remaining three games.
BBV: Your entire career with the Giants kicker Pete Gogolak was on your squads. He is considered the Father of the soccer-style kick. At the time, did you and your teammates think his style was a fad and an oddity, or something that would catch on?
HERRMANN: Something that would catch on – Pete’s brother, Charlie, was kicking for Washington, and they were both able to kick the ball further with accuracy.
BBV: How did you end up playing for the Saints your final two seasons?
HERRMANN: Tom Blanchard, a former Giants’ punter, was already with the Saints and recommended they pick me up because they needed a receiver.
BBV: Besides the amount of money players make today, what are some of the biggest differences of the NFL game from when you played?
HERRMANN: Celebrations, much more passing, many more formations, many more options on passing routes, different players on the field depending on the situation.
BBV: After life in the NFL you went into construction. Why did you have an interest in home building and renovations?
HERRMANN: I liked being self-employed because it gave me time with my family. I was able to share the events my children were involved in. I didn’t want to have any type of office or indoor job.
BBV: What type of construction does you company specialize in – residential or commercial or both?
BBV: Being a custom home builder is very tedious. Is the first goal to build a relationship with the new home owner?
BBV: What thrill goes through your mind watching your sons play the same game as you?
HERRMANN: A lot of nervous tension like before a game, but you don’t get a chance to get hit and get relieved of it. I was always excited for them, and wanted them to succeed in whatever they did.
BBV: What are your fondest moments as a member of the New York Football Giants?
HERRMANN: Opening day against Minnesota when I caught two touchdowns. Then after that game, Mr. Mara and Alex Webster had their picture taken with me.
Barry Shuck is a pro football historical writer and a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association