The Jew Who Changed Football Forever
There would have been no Tom Brady or Johnny Unitas if it hadn’t been for one determined son of Orthodox Jews from Cleveland, Ohio.
Originally, football was all scrimmage in a no-pass zone, with rules and machismo sensibilities dismissing passing as wimpy. The game was a grinding ground war, a smash-up derby for big galoots, with occasional breakaway survivors fleeing the pack.
The revolutionary who gave football an air war, who freed it from being all-Blitz-all-the-time, the disruptor who spawned the Hail Mary Pass and the Bomb, Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas, John Elway and Tom Brady, was a now-forgotten all-American with the body of a Greek God but the name of a Jewish accountant: Benny Friedman.
Back in the twenties and thirties, Friedman was the game’s Babe Ruth and Nelson Mandela, its Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey: he was top performer and freedom fighter, edgy innovator and huge celebrity. Friedman was so good that Tim Mara bought the Detroit Wolverines outright just to get Friedman’s services —and Mara’s New York Giants turned profitable within a year.