Michigan football started spring practice this week and there was some great video of Coach Harbaugh working with the quarterbacks. I wanted to spend this week focusing on a player most haven’t heard of despite the fact that he was one of Michigan’s first, and greatest, quarterbacks. Benny Friedman didn’t just play football at Michigan from 1924-26, he revolutionized the way the game was played. In the 1920s football largely resembled rugby; passing was still rare and discouraged. The ball was rounder and hard to throw and you could even be penalized for consecutive incomplete passes (I highly recommend Radiolab’s story on football’s early days). So when Friedman started to pass with great frequency and accuracy, it drew a lot of attention. Coach Fielding Yost said Friedman was “the best quarterback I ever coached” and along with wide receiver Bennie Oosterbaan he made up the ‘Benny to Bennie’ connection that was nearly unstoppable in the mid 1920s at Michigan.
In researching this post I came across this practice footage from 1926 at Ferry Field (the Big House would open the next year). It is really amazing film and I especially love the slow motion ‘Bennie to Benny’ pass at the end. Friedman was an All-American his last two years at Michigan and voted as the 1926 Big Ten MVP. In a 1925 game against Indiana Friedman threw for 5 touchdowns, kicked the extra points, and also made two field goals. Friedman had a similarly large impact on the way football was played in the NFL. He was so sought after by the New York Giants ownership that when his current team, the Detroit Wolverines, wouldn’t give him up, the Giants owner simply purchased the Wolverines to ensure Friedman was his quarterback. Friedman could throw anything with a perfect spiral, including this semolina sandwich loaf.