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ON YOUR MARKS: Friedman part of Brady’s bunch

By Adam Marks

Section: Sports

September 23, 2005

When the defending NFL champion New England Patriots took the field last night, officially starting the NFL season, they were led by quarterback Tom Brady, a graduate of the University of Michigan. Brady is the most recent U of M alum who has found success in the NFL, but the first in this succession of players is also fresh in the minds of football fans. Benny Friedman, the original great quarterback, was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio this summer, and while like Brady he played his collegiate ball in Ann Arbor, around Waltham, he is best known as athletic director and former head coach of the now defunct Brandeis University football team.

Quarterbacks are the leaders of a football team. They must lead the offense in the huddle and more than any other position the decisions they make influence the outcome of any given play. Tom Brady may have merely average statistics in comparison to other quarterbacks, but he is the face of the New England Patriots because it is Brady who quite literally leads the team to victory.

Before Brady was leading the Patriots to championships it was Elway, Montana, Bradshaw, and Staubach. Fifty years before any of these players had made a name for himself, Benny Friedman was inventing the position. Friedmans combination of passing and running ability made him a star at the University of Michigan in the mid 1920s, and his talents translated well to the professional leagues where he led the league in touchdown passes each season from 1927 until 1930. In 1928, Friedman became the first player to ever lead the league in both touchdown passes and touchdown runs, a feat no player has duplicated in the 75 seasons since. He was Michael Vick, only better, before there even was a Michael Vick.

Playing before free agency, and during the Great Depression, Friedman wasnt making the money players today make, even comparatively. One can only imagine the money that would have come Friedmans way after his record 1928 season. Friedmans season was so good that the owner of the New York Giants, Tim Mara, decided he wanted to buy Friedmans contract from the Detroit Wolverines. Mara did not, however, just buy Friedmans contract he bought the whole Detroit Wolverines football team for the right to own Benny Friedman and his abilities. He went on to break the league record for passing touchdowns in a single season, including a league record for passing touchdowns in a single game, and his appeal may have saved not only football in the city of New York but also the young professional league.

Friedman may have been elected to Canton, OH for his contributions in the NFL, but his influence at Brandeis University was profound. Friedman was more than a coach and athletic director. He was a teacher and mentor to his players, but more importantly he helped our then-fledgling university attract students and raise money during its first decade of existence. Without Friedman, we would not likely be the university we are today. Current Athletic Director Sheryl Sousa says that athletics, and football specifically played a significant role in making a name for Brandeis in the early years. Football helped to recruit men to a young campus, and the competition against local, more established institutions such as Harvard and BC [Boston College] helped make a name for a new institution. We are extremely proud to have Benny Friedman, our athletic director and football coach, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It is a wonderful thing for Bennys memory, for the supportive alumni who played for him and for our athletics program.

Brandeis University may have disbanded their football team in 1959 after deciding it was too costly to maintain. We still may not be known for our athletic program. Thanks to Benny Friedman, however, we are represented in the Hall of Fame. As the university grows in the tradition of Friedmans contributions, maybe one day we will again have a football team.

Imagine that tomorrow isnt just another Saturday;

it is the first home game of the season for the Brandeis University Judges the football team. Gordon Field, with its newly renovated A-Turf playing surface, is crowded with spectators for the home opener. While the small school in Waltham, MA may not be considered a national powerhouse like Friedmans alma mater, students always manage to find a way to back a football team good, bad, or otherwise. The Judges may not land any five-star recruits, but lets not forget Steve McNair made a name for himself at Alcorn State, not Nebraska or the Ohio State University. Waltham High School may not be an established breeding ground for talent, but the undersized and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie played his high school ball in Natick, and he could have chosen Brandeis University over our neighbors at Boston College. That could have been our Hail Mary.

But alas you Judges, Brandeis still has no football team. We havent had one for nearly fifty years. We may never have one again. Thanks to Benny Friedman, however, we are in the Hall of Fame and have one of the best, young universities in the country.

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