Feb 242006
 

New York Giants 2006 NFL Free Agency Preview: The Giants are clearly an up-and-coming football team, mainly due the talent they have compiled on the offensive side of the football. All eleven offensive starters are under contract and as of today, everyone who started last year on that side of the ball is expected to start on opening day in September 2006. While the offense was very productive last season, it is expected to continue to become stronger as young Eli Manning matures and gains experience. It will also help that the offensive line will return the same five starters at the same position for the first time since 2001. Other than Manning, the big question on this side of the ball is can Tiki Barber, who turns 31 in April, continue to play at an exceptionally high level?

What moves might the Giants make in free agency on the offensive side of the football? Back-up quarterback Tim Hasselbeck (Re-Signed by Giants) is an unrestricted free agent. He might not be back and/or the Giants may look to upgrade there. Tim Carter (Re-Signed by Giants), who is also unrestricted, has been a big bust and the Giants might look for a veteran wide receiver. However, no quality starting-caliber receiver will sign with the Giants unless the Giants unexpectedly release Amani Toomer. There is a chance the Giants could add another tight end and the Giants may add another back-up left tackle unless Bob Whitfield (Re-Signed by Giants) is re-signed.

The Giants most pressing personnel needs are on defense and perhaps special teams (the latter if punter Jeff Feagles retires). (Feagles Will Play One More Season) The Giants are already on record as saying they are most interested in improving the quality of their linebackers and defensive backs. They have publicly identified DT Kendrick Clancy (Signed by Cardinals) as their own primary free agent priority. The bulk of playoff history proves that you are unlikely to win a Super Bowl without a very strong defense. The Giants need to get better on this side of the ball.

The players listed below are the ones that caught my eye. This is by no means a comprehensive list. Indeed, the Giants have picked up some of their better free agents in recent years after teams have released those players during free agency. The players listed below are the ones who were available when I wrote this article. It will not include those who become available later.

(Note: Ages provided are the age the player would be on December 31, 2006).

Defensive Line: The Giants are set at defensive end with Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Eric Moore, and Adrian Awasom. There are a lot of bodies at defensive tackle and it is dubious if anyone on the open market will be better or much better than what the Giants have already. Much depends on whether or not Kendrick Clancy re-signs (Signed by Cardinals). Fred Robbins also makes far too much money for a backup. If either depart, the Giants may sign another tackle.

  • DT Rocky Bernard, Seattle Seahawks (6-3, 293, 27): Lacks top-notch size but he is a quick player and a good pass rusher. (Re-Signed by Seahawks)
  • DT Ryan Pickett, St. Louis Rams (6-2, 310, 27): Nice combination of power and quickness. Can be disruptive. Needs to play with better leverage on a more consistent basis. (Signed by Packers)
  • DT Larry Tripplett, Indianapolis Colts (6-2, 295, 27): Lacks height but is a bulky guy who plays with natural leverage. Has good quickness for his size. Needs to be more consistent. (Signed by Bills)
  • NT/DT Ma’ake Kemoeatu, Baltimore Ravens (6-5, 350, 27): Has great size and strength. Better run defender than pass rusher. (Signed by Panthers)
  • DT Damione Lewis, St. Louis Rams (6-2, 301, 28): Quick player who has never really lived up to his draft hype. Has been somewhat injury-prone. (Signed by Panthers)
  • DT James Reed, New York Jets (6-0, 286, 29): Similar player to Kendrick Clancy. Career back-up until he started all 16 games in 2005. Lacks height but he is a fireplug with good quickness. Has played some fullback in short yardage situations. (Signed by Chiefs)
  • DT Chris Hovan, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2, 298, 28): The Giants took a long look at him in free agency last year. Had a good year with Bucs as a run defender. Plays with good effort and can be disruptive. (Re-Signed by Buccaneers)

Linebackers: Antonio Pierce obviously has the middle spot locked up. He is a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Carlos Emmons (who turns 33) and Barrett Green (ankle/knee problems) (Waived by Giants) are not cheap. I actually would not be surprised to see both starting for the Giants in 2006; but I also could see both hitting the waiver wire. Reggie Torbor is still in the picture and a player on the rise. The Giants obviously want to add talent and depth here.

  • OLB Julian Peterson, San Francisco (6-3, 235, 28): Peterson was widely regarding as one of the best linebackers in football two years ago, but he suffered a serious Achilles tendon injury in 2004 and was not as dynamic for the 49ers in 2005. The big question is has the injury caused permanent damage or will he regain his earlier form? When healthy, he can do it all – blitz, cover, and play the run. Not the brightest guy in the world. (Signed by Seahawks)
  • WLB Will Witherspoon, Carolina Panthers (6-1, 231, 26): Pure weakside linebacker. Run-and-hit type similar in style to Barrett Green. Can cover and rush the passer. Has problems against the run at times at the point-of-attack. Makes a lot of tackles and is a good locker room presence. (Signed by Rams)
  • OLB David Thornton, Indianapolis Colts (6-2, 230, 28): Smart, solid all-around player who can cover and play the run. Has good range. (Signed by Titans)
  • LB Bart Scott, Baltimore Ravens (6-2, 235, 26): Back-up his first three years with the Ravens, Scott started 10 games in 2005 and was very productive with 92 tackles and four sacks. Good athlete with fine speed. Good special teams player. (Re-Signed by Ravens)
  • OLB Tommy Polley, Baltimore Ravens (6-3, 230, 28): Athletic player with fine speed and quickness. Has good range. Run-and-hit-type linebacker who struggles at times at the point-of-attack. Good in coverage. (Signed by Saints)
  • LB Ben Leber, San Diego Chargers (6-3, 244, 28): Lacks ideal athleticism, but he is an instinctive, hard-working player with good size. So-so in coverage. (Signed by Vikings)
  • LB Rocky Boiman, Tennessee Titans (6-4, 236, 26): Solid back-up for the Titans who can play both inside and outside. Has started 10 games in four seasons. Smart and plays hard. Decent blitzer but only so-so in coverage. Plays special teams. (Signed by Cowboys)

Cornerback: Much depends on Will Peterson (Waived by Giants) who has had damage to his vertebrae twice in three years. One would think it would be wise for the Giants not to count on his return, but who knows? If Peterson was OK, the Giants would be in good shape at corner. Without him, they need help. Will Allen (unrestricted) (Signed by Dolphins) is likely to leave in free agency and it doubtful that Frank Walker (restricted) has a future with the team. If Allen departs, the Giants may want to add someone with experience covering slot receivers.

  • Nate Clements, Buffalo Bills (6-0, 209, 27): Clements combines good size and athleticism. He is a tough player who will mix it up against the run. Very good cover corner who makes plays on the football (20 interceptions in five years). Can be inconsistent (i.e., beaten) at times, however, and is looking for a huge signing bonus. (FRANCHISED)
  • Charles Woodson, Oakland Raiders (6-1, 200, 30): Woodson is a big-name player whose production has not lived up to the hype recently. Has exceptional ability and can shut down an opposing receiver. However, he has had some injury issues and is not the easiest guy to coach. He is not team-oriented and mouths off a lot. Might not be the type of guy who gets along well with Coughlin. (Signed by Packers)
  • Ty Law, Waived by New York Jets (5-11, 200, 32): Good cover corner who can play both zone and man. Picked off 10 passes last year, but also led Jets with 10 penalties – sometimes too aggressive. Good run defender. Has a questionable attitude (skips team meetings) and might not be able to deal well with Coughlin.
  • Brian Williams, Minnesota Vikings (5-11, 207, 27): Competitive, aggressive, and physical. Lacks ideal quickness and athleticism. Played well in 2005. (Signed by Jaguars)
  • Ahmed Plummer, Waived by San Francisco 49ers (6-0, 191, 30): Plummer is a solid corner who plays with good technique. Smart. Has good size, but lacks ideal speed and quickness. Has been injury-prone the past two seasons with injuries to his shoulder, neck, and ankle. Played in only three games last year and six in 2004. (Retired Due to Injury)
  • Deshea Townsend, Pittsburgh Steelers (5-10, 190, 31): Given his age, not an ideal free agent candidate, but he could serve as a decent stop-gap starter. Reliable and smart, but not dynamic. (Re-Signed by Steelers)
  • Jerry Azumah, Chicago Bears (5-10, 192, 29): Future clouded by chronic arthritic hip condition which is said to be diminishing his skills. When healthy, he is a fast and quick player. Aggressive, but will bite on play-action at times. Very good returner. (Retired Due to Injury)
  • Renaldo Hill, Oakland Raiders (5-11, 180, 28): Started 13 games for Oakland last season after playing his first four years in Arizona. Lacks size and speed, but he is a tough guy who usually keeps plays in front of him. Good special teams player. (Signed by Dolphins)

Safety: The Giants added quite a few “street” free agents to the roster in February, but these guys are long-shots at best. Shaun Williams (Signed by Panthers) has not played a full season since 2002 and is an unrestricted free agent. He won’t be back. It’s time to part ways with Brent Alexander (Waived by Giants). That leaves only Gibril Wilson and James Butler. More help is needed.

  • SS Tank Williams, Tennessee Titans (6-3, 223, 26): Solid strong safety who is a good run defender. Hits hard. Has good range against the run and plays with an attitude. Not as strong in coverage as he lacks quick feet. But he can intimidate receivers. (Signed by Vikings)
  • FS Chris Hope, Pittsburgh Steelers (5-11, 206, 26): Hope has good range and is a good hitter. Only has four picks the past two seasons. (Signed by Titans)
  • FS Lance Schulters, Miami Dolphins (6-2, 202, 31): Smart player. Has good range and is a good hitter.
  • FS Ryan Clark, Washington Redskins (5-11, 200, 27): Former Giant who signed with the Redskins in 2004 and who has started 24 games for Washington. Lacks ideal size, but he is an athletic player who will hit. (Signed by Steelers)
  • SS Adam Archuleta, St. Louis Rams (6-0, 223, 29): Converted linebacker who is a big hitter and a fine player against the run. Not as strong in coverage where lacks range. Has had issues with his back. (Signed by Redskins)
  • SS Corey Chavous, Minnesota Vikings (6-1, 205, 30): Smart and a good leader. Works very hard off the field in the film room. Better in pass coverage than run defense. (Signed by Rams)
  • SS Marlon McCree, Carolina Panthers (5-11, 198, 29): Signed with the Panthers last offseason from Houston and started 14 games for Carolina. Had a big game against the Giants in the playoffs with two interceptions. Lacks ideal speed. (Signed by Chargers)
  • FS Will Demps, Baltimore Ravens (6-0, 205, 27): Suffered a partially torn ACL in late November, casting a cloud over his immediate future. When healthy, Demps has good range and is a good run defender. Inconsistent in coverage and only has four picks in four seasons. (SIGNED BY GIANTS)

Quarterback: One press report indicated that the Giants would like to bring aboard another quarterback to compete with Tim Hasselbeck (if he is re-signed) (Re-Signed by Giants) and Jared Lorenzen for the #2 spot behind Manning.

  • Jeff Garcia, Detroit Lions (6-1, 200, 36): Reaching the stage of his career where he needs to think about being a backup rather than a starter. Very good leader and smart player on the field. Reads defenses well, makes good decisions, and is accurate. Can cause problems with his feet when the play breaks down. Lacks a strong arm. Would probably be a good mentor for Manning. (Signed by Eagles)
  • Jay Fiedler, Waived by the New York Jets (6-2, 225, 35): The Giants tried to sign him last offseason, but he chose to sign with the Jets instead. Suffered a shoulder injury in 2005 that needs to be checked out. Tough and smart quarterback with good accuracy and athleticism. So-so arm. Sometimes forces throws.
  • Charlie Batch, Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2, 216, 32): Batch has a good arm and is athletic. Smart and tough. Not overly accurate. (Re-Signed by Steelers)
  • Jeff Blake, Chicago Bears (6-1, 223, 36): Better deep than short thrower. Athletic but aging. Smart, but inconsistent.

Running Backs: I don’t see the Giants having any interest in halfbacks at all. It is not likely that the Giants will look to sign a fullback, but it is not impossible.

  • Fred Beasley, San Francisco (6-0, 246, 32): Good blocker though he is better pass blocker than run blocker. Can catch the football. (Signed by Dolphins)

Tight Ends: Much depends on what the Giants truly think of Visanthe Shiancoe (Re-Signed by Giants), Sean Berton (Waived by Giants), Matt Kranchick (Waived by Giants), and Wade Fletcher. The latter two are receiving-type tight ends. The Giants could look to add another blocking-type to compete with Shiancoe and Berton.

  • Dan Campbell, Dallas Cowboys (6-5, 263, 30): It would be great to bring back Campbell, but he is a native Texan who would prefer to stay with Dallas if they offer him a fair deal. Campbell is a very good blocker. Doesn’t scare defenses as a receiver. (Signed by Lions)

Wide Receiver: The Giants are unlikely to waive Amani Toomer. The question is can they attract a starting-caliber-type wideout on a team with Plaxico Burress and Toomer? In addition, the Giants spread the ball around to Jeremy Shockey and Tiki Barber too and that may deter a hot free agent from coming to the Giants.

  • Antonio Bryant, Cleveland Browns (6-1, 192, 25): Has the tools. Bryant is athletic with very good hands. He can make the circus catch, but will occasionally drop a ball. Fluid, quick, and agile. Runs good routes. Has had attitude problems in the past (when with the Cowboys). (Signed by 49ers)
  • Koren Robinson, Minnesota Vikings (6-1, 205, 26): Has the tools. Big, athletic, and fast. Can make the circus catch, but also drop the easy ball. Dangerous, but inconsistent. Needs to improve focus and maturity. Had a substance abuse problem and was released by the Seahawks in during the 2005 offseason. Signed with the Vikings and flashed great ability again. (Re-Signed by Vikings)
  • David Givens, New England Patriots (6-0, 212, 26): Givens has good size and is team-oriented. Has been productive. He is a good blocker and special teams player. Lacks speed. (Signed by Titans)
  • Antwaan Randle El, Pittsburgh Steelers (5-10, 192, 27): A versatile performer who is better suited to a back-up spot/role player than starter. Very quick and shifty, but lacks size and speed. Good in the slot and on gadget plays. Can return punts. (Signed by Redskins)
  • Jabar Gaffney, Houston Texans (6-1, 193, 26): Starter in Houston who is better suited as a #3 receiver. Runs good routes and has good hands, but lacks speed and explosiveness. Good third-down receiver. (Signed by Eagles)
  • Joe Jurevicius, Seattle Seahawks (6-5, 230, 32): Former Giant who started 11 games for the Seahawks last year after serving primarily as a back-up for three teams during the rest of his career. Has very good size and has a knack for getting open. Can struggle with press coverage at times. Hands are a bit on the inconsistent side. (Signed by Browns)
  • Andre’ Davis, New England Patriots (6-1, 195, 27): Davis has never really lived up to his draft hype and has only had 25 total catches the past two seasons with the Browns and Patriots. However, he is a big, fast, quick receiver who can get deep. Will block. Needs to run better routes and has so-so hands. Can have problems with press coverage. Must become more focused. (Signed by Bills)
  • Corey Bradford, Houston Texans (6-1, 201, 31): Has a nice combination of size and speed. Can get deep, but has disappointed in the past in other elements of the game. Needs to run better routes and catch ball more consistently. (Signed by Lions)

Offensive Line: The Giants are set at guard with David Diehl, Chris Snee, Rich Seubert, and OG/OC swingman Jason Whittle (Waived by Giants). In an ideal world, they would probably look to replace Luke Petitgout with someone healthier, cheaper, and less prone to making mistakes. However, good left tackles are almost impossible to come by in free agency. Look for the Giants to consider drafting an eventual replacement for Luke. Shaun O’Hara is a decent center and was actually received quite a few Pro Bowl votes. However, it is not inconceivable that they could look to upgrade at center. Reserve tackle Bob Whitfield (Re-Signed by Giants) is an unrestricted free agent who the Giants reportedly would like to re-sign.

  • OC/OG LeCharles Bentley, New Orleans Saints (6-2, 313, 27): Has starting experience at both center and guard. Has long arms – unusual for a center. Tough guy who can really maul people. One of the best centers in the game but a bit inconsistent – needs to play at a high level all of the time. (Signed by Browns)
  • OC Justin Hartwig, Tennessee Titans (6-4, 312, 28): Smart and durable. Good run blocker who can get movement at the point-of-attack. Lacks ideal quickness and agility in space. (Signed by Panthers)
  • OT Jason Fabini, Waived by New York Jets (6-7, 304, 32): Can play both tackle spots. A technician who plays with toughness and smarts. Not a powerful player or overly athletic, but gets the job done. (Signed by Cowboys)
  • LT Kevin Shaffer, Atlanta Falcons (6-5, 290, 26): Better run blocker than pass blocker. Can get exposed by speed at times. (Signed by Browns)

Punter: Everything depends on whether Jeff Feagles retires or not (Feagles Will Play One More Season). If he does retire, punter becomes a huge need.

  • Jason Baker, Carolina Panthers (6-2, 205, 28): Has bounced around the league since 2001, but had a strong year for the Panthers in 2005 with a net 38.9 yards-per-punt average (third in the NFL). 23 of his punts landed inside the 20-yard line and only four resulted in touchbacks. (Re-Signed by Panthers)
  • Dave Zastudil, Baltimore Ravens (6-3, 215, 28): Has been the Ravens’ punter for the last four years. Averaged a net 35.7 yards-per-punt in 2005 (a gross of 43.5 yards-per-punt). (Signed by Browns)
  • Tom Rouen, Seattle Seahawks (6-3, 225, 38): Has been around the League since 1993. Net average in 2005 was 35.0 with a gross of 41.6. (Re-Signed by Seahawks)
Feb 132006
 

New York Giants vs Green Bay Packers Game Program – Courtesy of Rev. Mike Moran

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The recent election of Harry Carson into the Pro Football Hall of Fame spurred me to write this article. Carson, one of the greatest middle linebackers ever to play the game, was first eligible for the Hall of Fame in 1993. He had to wait 13 long years before receiving confirmation of his acceptance. But at least Carson is alive to enjoy his personal triumph. Unfortunately, for another Giant great, Benjamin “Benny” Friedman, the honor came far too late.

Most football fans today, including Giants fans, have never heard of Benny Friedman. That’s too bad because not only was Friedman one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play in the NFL, he, in fact, revolutionized the pro game by becoming the League’s first great passer. There are only four quarterbacks with ties to the Giants in the Hall of Fame: Y.A. Tittle, Fran Tarkenton, Arnie Herber, and Benny Friedman. The two longest tenured quarterbacks with the team – Phil Simms and Charlie Conerly – are not in the Hall. Yet Friedman’s induction in 2005 went barely noticed by the media and fans. Even the Giants organization did not publicize it much.

So who was Benny Friedman? Friedman, arguably the greatest Jewish athlete of all time, certainly did not look the part. He was approximately 5’8” and only 170 pounds. But the Giants were so enamored with his skills that they completely dismantled another NFL team in order to acquire him. During the NFL’s early days, no one could throw the football like Friedman.

Friedman was a two-time All-American quarterback at the University of Michigan and nationwide collegiate star of the first order. In 1925 and 1926, he led Michigan to back-to-back 7-1 seasons and first place finishes in the Big Ten. Against the University of Indiana in 1925 (the same year the Giants came into existence), Friedman accounted for 44 points, throwing for five touchdowns and kicking two field goals and eight extra points. At the time, only the legendary “Galloping Ghost,” Hall of Fame halfback Red Grange, received more attention with his decision to turn pro (Grange was as famous an athlete in those days as Babe Ruth). With no NFL Draft in existence, Friedman signed with and started his NFL playing career with the Cleveland Bulldogs in 1927. A year later, the franchise moved to Detroit and became the Wolverines. Following the 1928 season, then Giants’ owner Tim Mara made a strong push to obtain Friedman, who had burned his team a couple of times. But the Wolverines would not trade him. Mara made four ever-stronger offers, yet was rebuffed each time. Mara’s solution was to buy the financially-troubled Wolverines and disband them two days later. He kept Friedman, the head coach (as part of the deal), and a few other players. To make Friedman happy, Mara paid him an annual salary of $10,000 – the most ever for a football player at a time when most players were earning $50-100 a game.

Mara made the move to obtain Friedman both for player personnel and economic reasons. The Giants won their first NFL title in 1927 with an 11-1-1 record (the team’s only loss being to Friedman’s Bulldogs). However, in 1928, the Giants fell to 4-7-2. And worse, with the Great Depression looming on the horizon, the Giants were losing money and in dire financial straits. It was hoped that Friedman would not only turn around the win-loss record, but his star-power would also put the team in the black – and that’s exactly what he did, perhaps saving the franchise. It also didn’t hurt that Friedman was Jewish and would be playing in a city heavily populated with Jews. The Giants reportedly lost $54,000 in 1928. But upon Friedman’s arrival at the Polo Grounds, fans began showing up at Giants games and the team turned a profit in his first year in New York. The Giants made $8,500 in 1929, $23,000 in 1930, and $35,000 in 1931 in Friedman’s three Depression-era seasons with the team.

Friedman only played three years for the Giants. But those three years in New York solidified his status as the NFL’s first great passer. Back in those days, the game’s rules were not conducive at all to passing. Roughing the passer was legal. If a quarterback threw two consecutive incomplete passes, the team was penalized. An incomplete pass in the opposition’s end zone resulted in a turnover. Most importantly, the ball was much rounder and harder to grip. That did not matter to Friedman, who had incredibly strong hands. “I think the most amazing thing about him was the way he could throw the kind of football that was in use in his days,” said Giants’ co-owner Wellington Mara, who passed away in 2005 at the age of 89. “Did you ever see that ball? It was like trying to throw a wet sock.”

Benny Friedman with the Detroit Wolverines

In each of his first four years in the NFL, including his first two with the Giants, Friedman won first-team All-NFL honors and led the league in passing touchdowns. Although complete statistics were not kept, it is believed that Friedman completed more than half of his passes at a time when a 35 percent completion percentage was considered a very good performance. He led the league in touchdown passes each of his first four years. He twice passed for more than 1,500 yards in a season – an unheard of total for that era. In fact, no other NFL passer would reach that mark until 1942. From 1927 to 1930, Friedman threw for 50 percent more yards and twice as many touchdowns than the next-best quarterback in the NFL.

In his first year with the Giants in 1929, Friedman threw 20 touchdown passes, including four in one game – the first player to do either in the League. No NFL team would surpass 20 passing touchdowns in a season until 1942 and that total would have still led the NFL as late as 1977. The Giants’ 312-point total that year marked only the second time the 300-point barrier had been broken in the League. But it would happen again in 1930 when Friedman quarterbacked the team to 308 more points.

In the multi-tasking, two-way days of the early NFL, Friedman could do more than pass the football. Friedman could run, kick, and play defense. In 1928, the year before he came to the Giants, he led the NFL in both rushing and passing touchdowns – something no other player in NFL history has accomplished. He also led the league in extra points that season. In one game against the Bears, he rushed for 164 yards. Friedman also played defensive back.

Benny Friedman, New York Giants (1931)

Friedman, whose jersey number with the Giants was #1, immediately turned around the Giants’ fortunes on the football field. From 4-7-2 in 1928, the Giants improved to 13-1-1 in 1929, finishing second in the NFL behind the 12-0-1 Green Bay Packers (NFL Championship Games were not played until 1933). In 1930, Friedman led the Giants to another second-place finish with a 13-4 record (a .765 winning percentage), barely missing out on their second NFL title to the Packers again (who had a .769 winning percentage with a 10-3-1 record).

The biggest event in 1930 for the Giants however was the charity exhibition game played on December 14th at the Polo Grounds against a Notre Dame All-Star team of former Irish football greats, including the legendary “Four Horsemen.” The game was played during the season-long pennant chase with the Packers, but many New Yorkers were starving. Despite New York City being gripped in the depths of the Great Depression, 55,000 fans came to watch and Tim Mara donated the entire gate receipt ($115,153 – an astronomical amount of money in those days) to the New York City Unemployment Fund. It was widely expected by many that the Notre Dame team would beat the Giants, but it was the G-Men who thrashed Knute Rockne’s Fighting Irish 22-0. Notre Dame never crossed midfield and was held to one first down. Friedman, the team captain for the Giants, scored two of New York’s three touchdowns.

“There are those who say Friedman is the greatest passer of all time,” said Rockne. “They are not far wrong. He could hit a dime at 40 yards; besides being a great passer, he hit the line, tackled, blocked, and did everything – no mere specialty man – that a fine football player should do.”

Benny Friedman (1), New York Giants (November 22, 1931)

“He was the best quarterback I ever played against,” said Red Grange. “There was no one his equal in throwing a football in those days.” Grange later said, “Anybody can throw today’s football. You go back to Benny Friedman playing with the New York Giants…He threw that old balloon. Now who’s to tell what Benny Friedman might do with this modern football? He’d probably be the greatest passer that ever lived.”

“He is the greatest forward passer in the history of the game,” wrote a famed New York Daily News sportswriter. “No other passer has his accuracy, his judgment of distance, his intuitive ability to pick out the best receiver.”

Friedman’s productivity in 1931 began to decline. A knee injury slowed him on the field. He also became distracted as he was also serving as an assistant backfield coach at Yale. Indeed, he missed the first four games of the season because of his coaching duties (the Giants lost three of those games). In 1931, the Giants fell to fifth place in the NFL with a 7-6-1 record. After the season, Friedman demanded that Tim Mara give him a piece of the team. “(Mara) said, ‘No, I’m keeping it all for my sons,'” said Friedman. “That was that. I thought I deserved a piece of the club because I felt I had played a big part in moving it from the red ink to the black ink. And when Tim turned me down I felt I should move along, that I couldn’t stay with him.”

In 1932, Friedman left for the Brooklyn (Football) Dodgers as a player and coach. He led the league in completion percentage in his last full season as a player with Brooklyn in 1933, completing 53 percent of his throws or 10 percent better than the next most accuarate quarterback. He was named second-team All-NFL. Friedman retired from the NFL after the 1934 season at the age of 29. In his eight NFL seasons, Friedman played in 81 games, threw 66 touchdown passes, rushed for 18 touchdowns, and kicked two field goals and 71 extra points. He also caught five passes for 67 yards. His 66 career touchdown passes was an NFL record until Hall of Famer Arnie Herber passed him in 1944, the first of his two seasons with the Giants.

After his playing days, Friedman coached the City College of New York until World War II started for the United States in 1941. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia personally asked Friedman to take the City College position. During the war, Friedman served with the Navy as a lieutenant commander aboard an aircraft carrier. He later became the athletic director (1949-1963) and head coach (1951-1959) at Brandeis University.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame was established in 1963 and Friedman lobbied hard for his inclusion. But by doing so, it is said that he turned off a number of voters. In fact, he was not even nominated from 1963 to 2004. Friedman reportedly became increasingly bitter toward the NFL. In 1970, he criticized the League for “brashness and arrogance beyond belief” for not including pre-1958 players in the NFL’s pension benefit program.

By the late 1970s and early 1980s, Friedman was a forgotten man living in obscurity. He suffered from heart problems and severe diabetes, the latter causing him to lose a leg. On November 23, 1982, Friedman turned a gun on himself and died at the age of 77. In the note he left behind, Friedman said he didn’t want to end up as “the old man on the park bench.”

Twenty-three years too late and 71 years after his playing days were over, the Seniors Committee of the Pro Football Hall of Fame finally honored him in 2005.

At the time of Friedman’s selection to the Hall of Fame, Wellington Mara said of Friedman, “He towered over his contemporaries and set the stage of the development of the passing game we see today.”

“Benny revolutionized football,” the Bears’ George Halas once said. “He forced defenses out of the dark ages.”

Sources:

  • “Battlin’ Benny – The Man Who Invented the Passing Game,” Lively-Arts.com, Willard Manus, March 2002.
  • “The Man That Fame Forgot,” The Boston Globe, January 30, 2005.
  • “A Long Wait That Will End Much Too Late,” The Washington Times, Dan Daly, February 5, 2005.
  • “Hall of a Snub for Carson,” Giants.com, Michael Eisen, February 5, 2005.
  • “Friedman Joining Pro Football’s Pantheon,” ESPN.com, Joe Goldstein, August 2, 2005.
  • “Hall of Fame 2005: NFL Pioneer Friedman Headed to Hall Posthumously,” Associated Press, Barry Wilner, August 4, 2005.
  • The Giants: From the Polo Grounds to Super Bowl XXI – An Illustrated History, Richard Whittingham, 1987.
  • New York Giants: Seventy-Five Years, Jerry Izenberg, 1999.
  • New York Giants: 75 Years of Football Memories, edited by Victoria J. Parrillo of The Daily News, 1999.
  • Wikipedia.com
  • ProFootballHOF.com