FRIEDMAN, BENJAMIN (Benny ; 1905–1982), U.S. football player. Friedman was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the fourth of six children to Russian immigrants Mimi (Atlevonik) and Lewis, a ladies furrier and tailor. In 1923, he graduated from Glenville High School ranked as its top student, president of his senior class, and was chosen to deliver the commencement address. He starred in football, baseball, and basketball, leading the school to the 1922 Cleveland city championship and to the mythical national high school championship over Chicago's Oak Park High School.
The 5ʹ8ʹʹ, 172-pound Friedman then starred at the University of Michigan his last two and a half years as the consummate triple threat man – runner, passer, and kicker – who led the team to an 18–3 record in the games he was the starting quarterback. In his junior year the 1925 team outscored its opponents 227–3. The Wolverines finished the season ranked No. 2 in the nation, and Friedman was named a consensus first team All-American. In his senior year Friedman was named team captain, the first Jew to be so honored, as well as Big Ten Most Valuable Player and an All-American.
Friedman began playing professional football upon graduation in 1927, and immediately established himself as the game's first great passer, one who would throw anytime, and anywhere, to anybody. His multiple talents had a singular impact on the evolution of the sport, changing football from a straightforward running contest to the modern pass-and-run game.
Friedman played his first season with the Cleveland Bulldogs, for whom he threw a league-record 11 touchdown passes as a rookie, and while with the Detroit Wolverines the following season, he led the league in scoring, extra points, and rushing – to this day the only player in nfl history ever to lead the league in passing and rushing in a single season. The New York Giants then purchased the entire Detroit franchise in order to acquire the contract of Friedman, paying him a $10,000 salary as the highest-paid player in the pro ranks of his day, when most players were getting $100 a game. Friedman's first season with New York in 1929 saw him throw a record 20 touchdown passes – the next highest total was six – considered one of the greatest feats in nfl history, considering the passing rules in effect at the time and the watermelon shape of the ball. Friedman led the league in passing yards and touchdowns (11, 9, 20, and 13) his first four seasons, he was named All-Pro all four years, and his 66 career td passes were an nfl record until 1944. He moved from the Giants to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1932, but only played part-time for two more seasons as he began college coaching, first at Yale, and then from 1934 through 1941 as head football coach at City College of New York, compiling a 27–31–4 record. After serving as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy in wwii, Friedman served as athletic director at Brandeis University from 1949 to 1963, as well as head coach of the school's football team from 1951 through 1959, when they discontinued the sport. His record was 34–32–4.
Ill health late in life left him despondent, and in 1982 he was found in his New York apartment dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Friedman attributed his good fortune to his mother's faith in Judaism and her practice of putting 18 cents in her pushke (charity box) every Saturday on his behalf. Friedman was never injured throughout his high school, college, and pro career. "I never questioned whether it was my ability that kept me aloof from injury. I let it go that it was chai working for me."
Friedman was elected as a charter member of the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951, and was elected to the Pro Hall of Fame in 2005. He is the author of The Passing Game (1931).
[Elli Wohlgelernter (2nd ed.)]