For Washington's Taylor Heinicke, late father's love of Packers adds emotion to matchup

Taylor Heinicke, right, on his late father, Brett: "He taught me to be tough, mentally tough, and to be humble." Courtesy of the Heinicke family

ASHBURN, Va. -- For the Super Bowl XLV festivities at their suburban Atlanta home 10 years ago, Brett Heinicke cooked the one meal everyone always raved about: bratwursts. It's what he would bring to the coaches of his son Taylor Heinicke's teams, from youth ball to college. Naturally, it's what he would make when his beloved Green Bay Packers were playing for a championship.

They downed the brats and cheese dip while they watched their favorite team, the Packers, win another title.

That day, Taylor, now the quarterback for the Washington Football Team, saw his dad run outside and scream, "We won the Super Bowl!" He later called it one of his greatest memories of his father. It also happened to be the last time they watched a Super Bowl together.

Less than a year later, in December 2011, Brett suffered a heart attack and died at age 50, just days after Taylor's first season at Old Dominion ended. As Washington (2-4) prepares to play the Packers (5-1) on Sunday in Green Bay (1 p.m. ET, Fox), his father will be even more present in Taylor's thoughts.

"I think about him every day, but more so on game day when the national anthem is going," Heinicke said of his dad. "This week, it might get a little emotional there at the beginning."

There is a reason. Heinicke's college coach, Bobby Wilder, once said he had never seen a closer father/son relationship.

"They were best friends," Wilder said.

For Heinicke, his focus remains on improving his play. After leading two late wins in three weeks, he has struggled. He ranks 24th in the NFL in Total QBR (46.0), but in his past two starts -- losses to New Orleans and Kansas City -- he had a combined Total QBR of 26.2.

Wednesday, he said he was trying to be too perfect in those games. But as he tries to emerge from a rough stretch, he can lean on football lessons his father taught him, starting in the eighth grade when he tossed an interception in his first game and cost his team a win. Taylor said he locked himself in his bedroom.

"I was really emotional," Heinicke said. "He came up to my room and said some really encouraging words. Ever since then I keep those words in my mind. He's with me every day. I keep a lot of things he told me to help me through. He taught me to be tough, mentally tough, and to be humble."

Taylor lived with Brett in Lawrenceville, Georgia, after his parents divorced. His dad helped steer him on the path that eventually led to the NFL. When he was a high school freshman, and Collins Hill High hired a new coach, his dad secured the playbook for his son. Taylor took it from there, studying it all the time.

Later, Brett made a highlight video of his son and mailed it to a couple hundred colleges; he drove Taylor to camps every summer.

His dad lined the high school football field before games -- even after his son was playing at Old Dominion. After he died, Collins Hill memorialized Brett with a rock adorned with his name that all the players touch as they walk to the field. At ODU, they made bracelets with Brett Heinicke's name on them; Wilder still has his.

"There wasn't a finer man around," Kevin Reach, Heinicke's high school coach, said. "I loved him dearly. When he passed it was heartbreaking for all of us. He never said a word about anything. With Taylor, it was never about his playing, it was about him being a good citizen and making sure he thanked people when they did something."

And, of course, there were the bratwursts. He would serve them while his son played in high school. He would bring them to Old Dominion for tailgates -- and to deliver leftovers to the coaches on Sunday.

"They were good, bro," said Earl Williams, who has trained Taylor since he was in high school.

"The brats were outstanding," Wilder said, recalling the meal Brett served during his first recruiting visit. "He had the peppers and onions done properly. Everything was perfect. I ate three brats that day."

But a big part of Heinicke's relationship with his dad revolved around the Packers, whom he remembers watching every Sunday. Taylor owned multiple Brett Favre jerseys and wears No. 4 as well.

"During halftime, I'd go in the backyard and pretend like I was him and come back and watch the second half," Taylor said.

A Packers loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game of the 2007 season stung.

"I remember how upset he was," Heinicke said of his dad. "I was a young kid at the time. I didn't understand it. He told me, 'I'm sorry, I just want you to experience this with me one time.' It turns out they won the Super Bowl and that was the last one we got to watch together. It's cool I experienced that with him. It just makes this game that much more meaningful."

The last time Taylor spoke to his dad was the night Brett died, which came a week after ODU lost to Georgia Southern in the playoffs. Taylor was headed home the next day for Christmas break. One of the last things Brett said to his son: He was proud of him. He said that all the time. That is why Taylor doesn't wonder how his dad would react to him starting in the NFL.

"He'd be really proud of me," Heinicke said. "His biggest thing was after every game he'd tell me how proud he was of me and he'd give me a big hug, his signature bear hug. I know he'd be doing the same thing today, but more so this week. ... He'll be there Sunday and he'll crack one open and enjoy the game."