26. May 2009 · Comments Off on eBay Watch: Benny Friedman’s Detroit Wolverines (1928) · Categories: Archive 2009

A very cool item for auction this week: the program from the Sunday October 21, 1928 professional football game between the Detroit Wolverines and the New York Giants, held at the University of Detroit.   Here’s the cover:

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The fifteen cent program highlighted the feature attraction for the game and that was Michigan football legend Benny Friedman, who led Fielding Yost’s great teams of the mid-20s and eventually ended up (ridiculous late) in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Friedman’s exploits have been noted on these pages many times, and that’ll continue in the future. 

The Detroit Wolverines are actually referred to as “Benny Friedman’s Wolverines” both on the cover and in the line-up sheets within the program, making you wonder how his teammates felt about that.   But if there’s a guy who earned to have the team named after him, it was probably Friedman in this case.  In 1928 he led the league in both passing and running touchdowns, something that has never been (or will be) duplicated.

According to Murray Greenberg’s Passing Game,  Friedman had an old friend visit him on the sideline for that afternoon against the Giants:

Bennie Oosterbaan himself had come out to the Wolverines-Giants game to check out his old quarterback.  It was an easy trip to Detroit for Bennie, coming from Ann Arbor.  Upon graduation from Michigan in the spring of 1928, he had rejected a slew of offers to turn pro and instead became an assistant football coach for his alma mater.  The NFL’s loss was surely Michigan’s gain.

That Sunday Oosterbaan watched his old teammate cut up the defending champion Giants with ease, leading his Detroit Wolverines to a 28-0 victory. 

Joining Oosterbaan in the crowd in Motown was Giant’s owner and founder Tim Mara. father of Wellington Mara, the legendary owner who passed in 2005.    Mara’s franchise was not only losing in 1928, it was struggling financially and he needed a jolt. 

When the Wolverines held their rematch with the Giants weeks later in New York, Friedman provided last second heroics that floored Mara.  With the game clock ticking away on a fourth down, Friedman slipped past a set of oncoming rushers and found a man 35 yards down field for the game tying touchdown.  Friedman missed an extra point that would have won the game but no one seemed to care. 

Mara was blown away, and according to Passing Game, “right then and there, Tim Mara knew that at some point, somehow, he was going to get Benny Friedman into a New York Giants uniform.”

After failed attempts at a trade for the quarterback, Mara convinced the 20 man syndicate that owned the Wolverines to sell to him their franchise…for $3,500. 

Some argue Friedman’s presence in New York may have saved the struggling league.  In an interview Greenberg explains:

When Friedman turned pro in 1927, the nascent National Football League was teetering on the edge because of lack of fan interest. When the [NFL] owners saw Friedman bring thousands of fans into the stadium to see him pass the ball down the field, they decided to change their approach and open up the game to the forward pass.

Further:

Because of his role with the Giants, a flagship franchise, he was crucial in the league’s ongoing struggle to survive. In the 1920s, the Giants were in serious trouble. They couldn’t give tickets away—literally. That’s why [Giants owner] Tim Mara bought the entire Detroit Wolverines franchise in 1928: to bring Benny Friedman to New York. In the course of Friedman’s first season in New York, the Giants became profitable. By keeping the Giants afloat, Friedman went a long way in keeping the league afloat.

The seller is asking for ‘Buy it Now’ price of $750.00 for the program which is truly a piece of pro football history.  Bidding ends June 25th. 

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