Jewish football fans know that Christmas Day is the best time to catch big NFL games uninterrupted. Like, what else is there to do while non-Jewish fans try to convince their families that they’re not more interested in the game than little Billy’s new train set?
This year, however, you might get caught under the radar (or, rather, in your underpants on your Barcalounger) as Game Day is also the first day of Chanukah; it will be you pretending to love listening to your neighbor’s latke recipe while you keep one eye on the tube.
While this yenta is notsomuch a fan of the football (to mimic the voice of fabulous shoe blogger The Manolo,) the smart sportswriter Harvey Rosen published a synopsis of the NFL’s Jewish Year, reprinted here from The Jewish News of Greater Phoenix:
As the 2005-06 NFL season gets in gear, it’s time to take stock of noteworthy developments involving Jews in pro football – from ownership to quarterbacks to the warriors on the line.
On Aug. 7, the late Benny Friedman was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Friedman, who passed away at age 77 on Nov. 23, 1982, was a quarterback star in the 1920s and ’30s and was credited with popularizing the forward pass. The two-time All-American, as a collegian at the University of Michigan, played pro ball for the now-defunct Cleveland Bulldogs, Detroit Wolverines and Brooklyn Dodgers, as well as the New York Giants. In 1928, he led the National Football League in both rushing and passing touchdowns.
Another notable happening this year was the purchase of the Minnesota Vikings franchise by Zygmunt Wilf, 55, believed to be the first Orthodox owner of a major sports team. Wilf is an attorney and real-estate developer from New Jersey who is, according to a newsletter published by Yeshiva University in New York, a leading philanthropist and proponent of Jewish causes throughout the world. In the Vikings’ executive structure, Wilf is an owner chairman.
Jay Fiedler, the 10-year-veteran signal caller, was released by the Miami Dolphins during the winter and signed by the N.Y. Jets. The 33-year-old Oceanside, N.Y., native, who starred at Dartmouth for three years in the early 1990s, was signed by the Jets to act as a backup for the younger Chad Pennington.
The 6-foot-2-inch, 225-pound Fiedler passed for more career yards than any other former Ivy League quarterback in NFL history, except for the legendary Jewish star Sid Luckman. Primarily, Fiedler will act as insurance for Pennington, who is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery.
Fiedler’s best years are, of course, behind him, but the former Eagle, Viking and Jaguar is still highly respected as an NFL quarterback and was described by one maven as being “quietly efficient and a chess master of football.”
Left behind in Miami, a former backup to Fiedler, is Sage Rosenfels, 27, out of Iowa State. The former Washington Redskin, whose dad is Jewish, has been in the pros for five years and has yet to earn employment as a starter. Sage has size on his side at 6 feet 4 inches and 220 pounds but is described as lacking mobility and having a sometimes inaccurate arm.
Center and offensive guard Lennie Friedman, 28, out of Duke University, stands 6 feet 3 inches and tips the scales at 285 pounds. After four years with the Broncos, Friedman is starting his third year as a Washington Redskin. The Livingston, N.J. native, who has his bachelor’s degree in psychology, earned three letters in football, two in basketball and three in track and field.
Minnesota boasts two huge Jewish linemen, who both stand 6 feet 7 inches and weigh more than 300 pounds: Mike Rosenthal, 28, an offensive right tackle out of Notre Dame and Adam Goldberg, 25, an offensive left guard who is a Wyoming grad. They are listed as starters on a very good Vikings squad.
Rosenthal’s 2004 season ended after two games in early September last year as a result of breaking his right foot in his team’s loss to Philadelphia in a Monday night game. Goldberg, after being on the team’s practice squad two years ago, played in 13 contests last season.
Mike Seidman, 24, is back for his third season at tight end with the Carolina Panthers. The 6-foot-4-inch, 260-pounder out of UCLA played last season in all 16 of his team’s games. Seidman is described as having “good hands and is a smart player.” His shortcoming, apparently, is a lack of speed. He also needs to improve his footwork as a blocker to see more time.
Veteran punter Josh Miller, 35, who graduated from University of Arizona with a degree in communications, is now in his second season with the New England Patriots. The 6-foot-4-inch, 225-pound kicker was instrumental in the Patriots’ Super Bowl win.
San Diego Chargers defensive end Igor Olshansky, 6 feet 6 inches and 309 pounds, started in all 16 of his team’s games last season in his rookie year. The 23-year-old Oregon State grad, who was drafted in the second round (35th overall) in 2004, is a Jewish immigrant who at age 7 came with his family to North America from the Ukraine. He was described by one pro weekly as “not much of a factor in the pass rush, but his impressive strength and leverage helped him stalemate offensive linemen and free up the team’s linebackers to flow to the ball.” No surprise there, since he bench-pressed a team record 505 pounds at Oregon.
Harvey Rosen is a freelance writer based in Winnipeg, Canada.