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Heinie Benkert

Sport: Football

Born: June 30, 1901

Died: July 15, 1972

Town: Newark

Henry Marvin Benkert was born June 30, 1901 in Newark. The product of a German-American family, Henry also went by Heinrich, which of course was shortened to Heinie. Swift and strong, he excelled in several sports while attending East Side High School, but made his mark in football as the team’s All-State ball carrier. He attended Rutgers in the 1920s and teamed with All-American Homer Hazel to give the school an awesome one-two punch. on offense and defense. Heinie was basically the Queensmen’s entire offense as a senior in 1924, when he led the nation with 16 touchdowns and 100 points. The team went 7–1–1 but, predictably, bottomed out in 1925 after Heinie and Homer graduated.

Heinie decided to give pro ball a try. He signed with the New York Giants in 1925, their first season in the NFL. The team captain was veteran pro Bob Nash,like Heinie a Rutgers alum. He was one of the club’s best defensive players. In 1926, he played for the Pottsville Maroons. In 1927, Heinie joined the Orange Athletic Club, an independent powerhouse, as their coach and star halfback. Local newspapers noted that he had beefed up his 5’9” frame to 170-plus pounds, but had not lost any of his speed. Heinie led the Tornadoes for two years. Among his teammates was Frank Kirkleski, an All-American at Lafayette originally from Nutley. In 1929, the Tornadoes’ owner, Essex County produce king Piggy Simandi, purchased the NFL franchise slot abandoned by the Duluth Eskimoes and Heinie “returned” to the NFL.

The Tornadoes’ timing could not have been worse. The stock market crashed midway through the 1929 campaign and the economy cratered in 1930. The team moved back to Newark in 1930 hoping to draw bigger crowds, but football tickets had become a luxury at that point and the team dropped out of the league. The death blow for the Tornadoes occurred between their two NFL seasons. Jack Depler, an All-American lineman at Illinois, had replaced Heinie as coach in 1929. Prior to the 1930 campaign, Depler bought an NFL franchise on the cheap and establish a club in Brooklyn—taking most of the club’s good players, including Kirkleski. Heinie was reinstated as head coach, but the depleted club managed just one win.

Heinie took a coaching job at Woodbridge High in 1931 and then at Orange High in 1932, where his star players included Monte Irvin and Harvey Grimsley. He continued and teach history there through the 1960s. During the 1940s Heinie also worked with the Rutgers coaching staff. He passed away in 1972, a year after retiring.


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