Born: October 7, 1928
Died: March 28, 2008
Richard Herbert Rich was born October 7, 1928 in Newark. During the 1930s, Herb played a variety of sports as a young boy in the city’s Weequahic neighborhood. The Rich family later moved to South Florida, and he enrolled at Miami Beach High School in and became a three-sport standout. He continued to star in baseball and basketball after accepting a scholarship from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, and soon became the leader of the Red Sanders’s varsity as the featured tailback and defensive back.
In his junior year, Herb focused all of his athletic energy on the gridiron. He was the team’s top ground gainer and was voted All-SEC in 1948 and 1949. In 1948, Vanderbilt recovered from an 0–2–1 start to win their final eight games and snag a #12 national ranking. Special teams led the way, as Herb averaged more than 27 yards on kickoff returns and Lee Nalley returned punts to the tune of 18.4 yards, earning All-America honors in the process. The Commodores demolished nationally ranked Tennessee and Miami in their final two games. Herb’s senior year saw Vanderbilt fall to 5–5 under new head coach Bill Edwards. The team went 24–15–1 during Herb’s three varsity seasons.
Herb was chosen in the 6th round of the 1950 NFL draft by the Baltimore Colts. The Colts were one of three AAFC clubs (along with the Browns and 49ers) invited to join the established league. The Colts were in poor financial shape and despite the presence of quality players like Herb, Y.A. Tittle, Hardy Brown, Art Spinney and Adrian Burk, they went 1–11 and disbanded after the season. Herb played primarily at safety. He picked off three passes and returned one for a touchdown. He averaged 23 yards on 12 punt returns, which set an NFL record at the time.
Herb was picked up by the Los Angeles Rams in 1951. The Rams went 8–4 to win the West and faced the Browns in the NFL title game. Herb played well in a 24–17 victory, covering the likes of Dub Jones, Dante Lavelli and Mac Speedie. In 1952, Herb earned All-Pro honors with 8 interceptions. He returned one for 97 yards.
Herb battled injuries in 1953 but still intercepted three passes, returning one for a touchdown for the third and final time in his career. In 1954, he was traded to the Giants and became part of one of the great defensive backfields of the 1950s. Herb, Tom Landry, Emlen Tunnell and Dick Nolan combined for 27 interceptions in 12 games. Herb picked of 5 passes at his new cornerback position.
In 1956, Herb became the team’s defensive captain and the Giants went on to win the NFL championship. Worn down from years of hard play, he was mostly a substitute that season and retired after New York’s 47–7 victory over the Bears. In 65 NFL games, he had 29 interceptions. Herb was one of a handful of Jewish stars who played in the NFL during its early days. Others included Benny Friedman, Sid Luckman, Harry Newman and Marshall Goldberg.
During his off-seasons, Herb attended Vanderbilt Law School and earned his law degree in 1954. After leaving football, he became a practicing attorney in Nashville. He was an ardent supporter of Vanderbilt athletics and a prominent member of the city’s legal community for more than four decades. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 79 after a serious fall.