By Bill Walsh, Class of 1993
Special to Profootballhof.com
Editor’s Note: Bill Walsh led the San Francisco 49ers to three Super Bowl victories. He compiled a 102-63-1 record during his 10 seasons as the 49ers head coach. Walsh, who also served the 49ers as President and General Manager, was widely regarded as an expert in the passing game. As an assistant coach with the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers, he is credited with developing the careers of such quarterbacks as Ken Anderson and Hall of Famer Dan Fouts. With the 49ers, Walsh was responsible for drafting Joe Montana and trading for Steve Young. He developed both quarterbacks into Hall of Famers.
Walsh welcomes Friedman, who passed away in 1982, as if Benny was going to be present for his induction into the Hall of Fame on August 7th.
Benny, you were really the catalyst that started the forward pass in professional football. And, I don’t know how long the lack of passing would have gone without your presence, it may have gone on for many years. But, you’re the person who demonstrated and proved to everyone that the forward pass can be effective and, more importantly, it can be consistently effective.
Prior to you, Benny, there were passes thrown, obviously, but in your case, you threw often and completed a good percentage of your passes and you got into the end zone with it. You circumvented a lot of wear and tear on the players. So, I would say that Benny, you were really the person who changed the face of football.
It’s a privilege to think about the history of the game and for me to be a part of it. Looking back to men like Benny Friedman and others and to be a part of this, I have just the ultimate admiration for you and your generation because you really established a style of football that was much more appealing to the public and much more appealing to the players. You had to be very innovative and creative, and be willing to take risks and put your career on the line.
Benny, you were also a fine runner, leading the league in rushing and passing – I’m sure out of the single-wing, so you were the complete triple-threat kind of football player that we don’t see as often anymore. Benny, in a sense, you had been lost in time with Don Hutson and some others becoming the key men in the National Football League. There you were - the guy who actually was the catalyst that got it going.
The quarterback position calls for a person with a lot of internal poise, presence, and confidence, and a person who is able to focus down the field while people are naturally trying to crash into him. It takes a unique person, and by decree, quarterbacks do it. But, the great ones are able to stand up to the pass rush, throw accurately down the field, and they have instincts – just basic instincts they were born with and even intuitive instincts. You see that in the Hall of Fame type of player and certainly Benny, you fit into this category.
If I had coached Benny Friedman, with the rules of the day that penalized you at certain times when you threw, I think I would have simply let you take over because you knew what you were doing. It was not an easy ball to throw because it was shaped dramatically different than it is now. And you were able to throw the ball and complete passes that changed the game. But, if I were coaching then, I would have explored the rules and hopefully would have been on the creative side just as you were.
|Benny Friedman became the NFL’s all-time career leader in touchdown passes during the fourth game of his third season (1929) when he surpassed the career total thrown by Curly Lambeau. Friedman held the mark until Sammy Baugh surpassed it midway through the 1943 season.
Since Baugh, the record holders have included the following quarterbacks, all of whom have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Bobby Layne, Y.A. Tittle, Johnny Unitas, and Fran Tarkenton . Friedman’s fellow classmate in the Class of 2005, Dan Marino is the current record holder.
Well, Benny, and now for your family, your enshrinement into the Hall of Fame is a tribute and an acknowledgment of greatness. And the greatness that you demonstrated throughout your career is finally recognized as it should be. If you can justify being enshrined in the Hall of Fame, and Benny Friedman certainly justifies that and certainly qualifies for it because you changed the game.
And now, your family and their family for generations will have had their great hero and this brilliant performer acknowledged universally.