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Husky Football Blog

The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

July 19, 2009 at 8:09 PM

Summer reading

I have a lot of down time — literally and figuratively — while recovering from my knee surgery, and one thing I’ve been doing is trying to read a lot of books I just haven’t gotten to in recent years.
One I’m almost done with is Mark Bowden’s “The Best Game Ever,” a chronicle of the 1958 Giants-Colts NFL Title game.The Colts beat the Giants in overtime, 23-17, in a contest regarded as a turning point in the history of the league — the subtitle of Bowden’s book refers to the game as “The Birth of the Modern NFL.”.
Among the many interesting nuggets in the book — including how Tom Landry, then defensive coordinator for the Giants, basically invented the modern 4-3 defense and in the process redefined the middle linebacker position to the way we know it today — is that legendary UW QB Don Heinrich started the game for the Giants.
That may be easy for people to forget — or never even really have remembered — since Heinrich barely played otherwise — he was 2-4 passing for 13 yards before being pulled in favor of Charlie Conerly.
Heinrich, who played at UW from 1949-52 and led the nation in passing in 1950 and 1952 making him the school’s first great passing QB, wasn’t pulled for ineffectiveneess. Instead, it was simply the strategy of the time for the Giants’ offensive coordinator — some guy named Vince Lombardi — to start Heinrich, play him for a couple of series or so — and then go with Conerly. Heinrich started six games that season but threw just 68 passes — Conerly, who started the rest and played the majority of the time, threw 184.
Lombardi felt starting the game on the sidelines allowed Conerly a little time to see what the defense was doing and adjust accordingly — Bowden notes that Conerly didn’t like the strategy, and it’s hard to imagine anyone employing it these days.
Heinrich also got the start in the 1956 title game in much the same fashion. He was 3-6 for 21 yards in that game before being pulled for Conerly in a game the Giants won 47-7 over the Bears.
That got me to wondering, however, if that 1958 game isn’t the most important pro contest ever started at QB by a former Husky. At the time, the NFL Title Game was it, the ’50s version of the Super Bowl, which didn’t come into being until 1967 after the merger with the AFL.
Only one Husky has started a game at QB in a Super Bowl — Chris Chandler got the start for Atlanta in Super Bowl XXXIIII, a loss to the Broncos.
Mark Brunell started two AFC title games for Jacksonville in 1996 and 1999, losing both.
Warren Moon, for all of his other Hall of Fame credentials, never got past the divisional round of the playoffs in the NFL, though he did win five Grey Cups in Canada.
A few other UW QBs were on rosters for Super Bowls but didn’t play in them, notably Damon Huard, who won two Super Bowl rings with the Patriors earlier this decade; and Marques Tuiasosopo, a backup when the Raiders lost to Tampa Bay in 2003.
Heinrich is obviously a bit player in the 1958 game — he’s mentioned just three times in the book. But it’s an interesting UW connection to what is unquestionably one of the most memorable football games ever played.

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