Fullback Henry Hynoski had a great role model -- his dad
Henry Hynoski Sr. isn't much for memorabilia. He didn't like to brag or tell stories about his days as one of the premier running backs in the NCAA or his brief stint in the NFL. There were no trophies or pictures or framed jerseys hanging in the house in Catawissa, Pa., where he raised his family.
But there was one item that sat quietly in the den. An orange helmet without any decals or decorations, as modest as the man who once wore it on NFL fields. Hynoski placed that old Browns helmet that he wore in 1975 in the center of the house, not to remind others of what he had accomplished but to remind his son, Henry, what he could.
"I pretty much kept it as motivation for Henry from when he was a little kid all the way up," the elder Hynoski said from his home this past week. "A reminder to try to achieve, not necessarily the NFL, but just to give him motivation when he was playing Little League ball and high school ball."
That helmet helped motivate young Henry all the way to the NFL, where he now is the starting fullback for the defending Super Bowl champion Giants. And this week, for the first time in his brief career, he'll be facing his father's old team, butting heads with players who will be wearing the same unadorned orange helmet that he grew up looking at, pushed by, dreaming of.
"It's going to be exciting," the junior Hynoski said. "There's a lot of family history there, and to have a father who played in the NFL and going against his former team, it's a really neat week for our family."
Hynoski Sr. may have had a brief career, but only because it was curtailed by injury. A sixth-round pick of the Browns in 1975, he played just the one season before suffering a third-degree separated AC joint in his shoulder. He recalls the play as if it happened last Sunday, not almost four decades ago.
"I was running off tackle and the hole was blocked up, so I tried to bounce it outside and four of us had a collision," he said. "When I fell, I fell holding the ball on my elbow, and when I hit the ground, all that weight just caused the shoulder to pop out."
And that was that. His career ended with only seven carries for 38 yards.
"I'll be honest with you, it bothered me for a little while that an injury curtailed my career," he said. "But in the long run, hey, I had a taste of it, it was short and sweet, and I was lucky to minimize my injuries."
Now he gets to experience a second NFL career through his son. Henry Sr. and his wife, Kathy, have attended every one of their son's games since he was in seventh grade, from preseason exhibitions to the Super Bowl to Sunday's game against the Browns.
"I'm enjoying this much better because he's a much better athlete than I was," Hynoski Sr. said. "It's fun to watch him. And I can appreciate what he's going through now and I can relate to it and it almost makes you feel like you're living through it again vicariously through his actions."
While the elder Hynoski deferred to his son's athletic skills, Henry Jr. does the same in the opposite direction.
"My dad is my idol," he said. "I looked up to him growing up. He's still invincible to me."
And, Henry Jr. isn't afraid to say, a heck of a player. He recalls seeing film of his father running for Temple University as an honorable-mention All-American.
"My dad was a monster," Hynoski said. "I saw a play once where three guys came to tackle him on a toss play and he ran all three of them over and scored a touchdown, and the camera went back and it showed the three players crawling on the ground after the hit."
Like most aspects of the elder Hynoski's playing career, that clip required some prying.
"I heard stories from people in our area about how great he was and how much of a legend he was in our area," he said. "I had to pull it out of him. We'd watch some tapes and he'd tell me some stories."
Hynoski Sr.'s career carries were so few because of injury. His son's are so few because of position.
Although he was a proficient tailback in high school, he was converted into a fullback at Pitt (where he blocked for, among others, LeSean McCoy) and did not have a carry throughout his rookie year with the Giants. This year, though, he's already taken two handoffs. He is the first Giants fullback with more than one carry in a season since Jim Finn in 2006. Five more and he'll match his father.
"I think they're going to break him in gradually," Hynoski Sr. said. "He'll never be a 20-ball carrier but maybe he'll get two or three touches a game eventually, which is good. It keeps everybody off balance and it keeps the defense guessing."
He might even get one Sunday against his father's old team. Not that his father would mind. He keeps in touch with some former teammates from his days with the Browns, he said, but he hasn't been back in Cleveland since his career ended in 1976.
"I didn't think too much of it, to be honest with you, until this past week, but it's pretty exciting," Hynoski Sr. said.
The only links he has to the Browns are a game jersey kept tucked away in a closet, some stories that he also keeps tucked away, and that helmet that helped inspire his son to make it to the NFL.
Wait, where'd the helmet go?
"I put it down in the basement," Hynoski Sr. said with a laugh of his redecorating, replacing the Browns helmet with a blue one that was worn -- and damaged on a bone-jarring hit -- by his son last season. "We're 100 percent Giants now."