Talk about embarrassing!
I consider myself pretty well-read on sports and history. Yet I have to admit: until we got the pitch from the publisher a few weeks ago, I couldn't have told you who Benny Friedman was.
Well, we interviewed the author (the book is called "Passing Game: Benny Friedman and the Transformation of Football" ) and I read the book. And I was blown away.
Synopsis: Friedman was a Jewish kid from Cleveland who went to the University of Michigan in the 1920's and played for the legendary Fielding Yost. Despite rules that discouraged the forward pass (for example, you had to be at least 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage to throw a pass) and a ball that was shaped about like a rugby ball (see the photo), Friedman and the Wolverines opened up the passing game.
He then did the same thing in the fledgling NFL, where Friedman set all sorts of records (and to be honest, was a greater force than even the legendary Red Grange). Later, Friedman coached at CCNY and Brandeis but never got the bigtime coaching job he craved.
How a guy with a story like Friedman's got lost to history is a story in itself. Anti-Semitism? Maybe. His own cranky personality? Possibly. Friedman was finally elected posthumously to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005 (went in with Steve Young).
And now you can read the whole story. It's worth your time.