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Norb Hecker, 76; 1950s Rams Player Had Career as an Assistant Coach

March 19, 2004|From a Times Staff Writer

Norb Hecker, who played for the Los Angeles Rams in the early 1950s, was the first head coach for the expansion Atlanta Falcons and fashioned a long career as an assistant coach, primarily in the NFL, has died. He was 76.

Hecker died of cancer Saturday at the home of a son in Los Altos, Calif.

Born in Berea, Ohio, Hecker served in the U.S. Army in Germany. He played at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea after his discharge, lettering in football, baseball, basketball and track. In 1950, Hecker was named to the little All-American team in football.

He joined the Rams in 1951, playing offensive end and defensive back through the 1953 season.

Hecker was probably best-known to Ram fans for delivering a key tackle on Cleveland's Dub Jones on a fourth-down and 2-yard situation at the Coliseum to stop the Browns' drive and ensure a 24-17 victory in the 1951 NFL Championship game, the predecessor to the Super Bowl. The Rams' win gave Los Angeles its first professional championship and was the only title the Rams had during their 48 years in Southern California.

After playing in Canada in the 1954 season, Hecker returned to the NFL with the Washington Redskins. He played with the Redskins from 1955 to 1957, and was one of a dozen NFL players to start the NFL Players Assn. in 1956.

A knee injury in 1958, while playing with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Canada, ended Hecker's playing career.

The next season, he joined Vince Lombardi's original coaching staff with the Green Bay Packers. He coached there until 1966, earning three world championship rings to add to the one he earned with the Rams in 1951.

In 1966, Hecker, then 38, was named coach of the Falcons, where he remained for two seasons before being fired. He moved to the New York Giants as an assistant coach for the 1969-71 seasons.

In 1972, Hecker joined the coaching staff at Stanford University, first under Jack Christiansen and then Bill Walsh. When Walsh moved to the San Francisco 49ers in 1979, Hecker went with him. He earned four Super Bowl rings with the 49ers, and later served in the team's front office as a senior administrator.

Through most of the 1990s, Hecker lived in retirement in Palm Desert. Surviving are five children, seven grandchildren, two brothers and a sister.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. March 26 at the Stanford Memorial Chapel on the campus.

Instead of flowers, the family suggests a donation to the Norbert E. Hecker Memorial Scholarship Fund, c/o the Development Office, Baldwin-Wallace College, Berea, OH 44017.

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