You know those “make your all-time” lists that circulate in the offseason? Suddenly they got serious.
This week: I’ve been leaving out pre-Nineties players because I didn’t gain consciousness until well into the Eighties. We’ll leave the Best of Bo for Sap. These are Pre-Bo. Also this one’s going to be long because a lot of these guys are probably unfamiliar to you.
I did not run any of this past Greg Dooley, who studies this stuff, or the UM Bentley Library guys who curate it, or Craig Ross, who was alive for all of it, and I reserve the right to edit based on anything they might choose to add because they know this stuff way better than I do.
Rules: Players are considered for how they compared to other players of their own time—a 180-pound center from a Point-a-Minute team wouldn’t survive a series versus one of Woody Hayes’s defensive lines; on the other hand Bump’s players didn’t have to worry about cholera. Pre-platooning players can be eligible for both sides of the ball.
Cutoff Point: To avoid overlap the majority of his playing time had to come before 1969. Just give Bump some credit for recruiting the excellent 1968 class.
Foul Language Warning: The faint at heart might want to skip tight end.
Quarterback: Benny Friedman
Kinda tough to throw a spiral with that [The Michigan History Project]
Who was Michigan’s greatest quarterback ever debatable, but this much is not: He was certainly Jewish.
I’m going with Benny Friedman over Harry Newman. Friedman was the game’s first great passer, but still more Denard Robinson than Tom Brady. Back in the day freshmen were still not allowed to play varsity, so in 1923 the Glenville (yes, a powerhouse even then) product had to resign himself to embarrassing his classmates. In 1924 Yost was Barry Alvarez-ing over his handpicked successor George Little, and Little refused to put Benny, already a campus legend, on the field. Until, that is, Michigan lost to Red Grange’s Illinois, and a furious Yost joined the campus chorus to play Friedman. The result was immediate and spectacular. After ‘24 Yost sent Little packing, inserted Friedman as his starting QB, and in concert with a certain future Michigan head coach, outscored opponents 227 to 3*. The following year they lost only to eventual national champion Navy (a team Benny and Bennie handled 54-0 at home in ‘25). Friedman also kicked every field goal and extra point, led the team in rushing, returned a kickoff 85 yards, threw more TD passes than the rest of the Big Ten combined, and called every play.
* [As luck would have it the 3 went to Northwestern in a ridiculous 3-2 mudfest that got the safety rule changed and nearly got Evanston burned to the ground; Craig Ross wrote about it in HTTV 2015.]
Honorable Mention: Harry Newman, who went 24-1-2 as a starter and should be counted among Heisman winners except they called it the Fairbanks Trophy back then. Big Bob Timberlake
[After THE JUMP: Icons and Legends]