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McAfee one of the greatest players in NFL history


Ironton’s George McAfee was an All-American for Duke University and an All-Pro for the Chicago Bears. McAfee was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1966 and this was his HOF induction photo with information regarding his induction.

Jim Walker
jim.walker@irontontribune.com

There was a secret to the reason George McAfee was one of the greatest players in the history of the NFL.
He was scared.
Well, maybe not scared but actually smart. One of the fastest and most talented running backs to ever step onto a gridiron, McAfee let everyone in on the secret of his success while making his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech in 1966.
Reflecting on his first season with the Chicago Bears in 1940, McAfee said he remembered it vividly.
“I never saw so many big men in my life,” said the 6-foot, 165-pound Ironton product. “I remember clearly on one of the first scrimmage plays that a rookie halfback was knocked cold trying to bring down Bill Osmanski.
“That played served as a valuable lesson for me. Whenever I ran with the ball, I had that picture in my mind of that back there on the ground, cold as a stone. I would run as fast as I could if there was any daylight.”
And, fortunately, McAfee had the speed to run past defenders. He had explosive speed, clocked at 9.7 seconds in the 100-yard dash which translates to between 10.4 and 10.7 seconds in the 100-meter dash.
He used his speed to easily win the 100-yard dash in the Southern Conference track meet during his senior year at Duke University.
Besides his speed, McAfee had the ability to juke and fake his way past defenders.
Harold “Red” Grange was a great running back in college and in the NFL. But even he was amazed with McAfee’s talent and athletic skills on the field.
“(McAfee) is the most dangerous man with the football in the game,” Grange said in an interview with Chicago Tribune sports writer Edward Prell in 1941.
“When you see (McAfee) in slow-motion movies, his maneuvers are incredible. He jumps every which way and every muscle seems to be going full blast, like the guy is on fire.
“I remember a Bears’ film which shows George feinting around a tackler by hopping three times on his left foot, then, without a loss of balance or speed, he came down on his right foot and was gone.”
Chicago Bears’ founder, owner and long-time head coach George “Papa Bear” Halas coached 40 years and won eight NFL titles. He told the late longtime sports writer Bill Gleason for the Chicago American and Sun-Times that McAfee could have had even greater numbers.
“I played McAfee a quarter and a half because if I played him more he would have ruined the league,” Halas told Gleason.
“And he meant that,” said Gleason. “He was sincere about it. George Halas was not going to ruin the league. McAfee was that good.”
McAfee finished his career with 5,313 all-purpose yards with 1,685 yards rushing, 21 touchdowns, 1,359 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, four kick returns for TDs and 25 interceptions in eight seasons.
He led the league in punt return average in 1948 and still holds the NFL record for career punt return average with 12.78 yards for anyone with a minimum of 75 returns.
McAfee had four of his prime years erased because of military service during World War II. A 1939 All-American at Duke, he was the second overall pick in the 1940 draft and played the 1940-41 seasons before entering the Navy.
McAfee was so entertaining to watch that even his own teammates caught themselves watching him run.
“The toughest part of the game for me is to carry out my assignments after giving the ball to George,” Bears’ Hall of Fame quarterback Sid Luckman once said.
“You know, the quarterback has to make a fake on all plays unless he is willing to contribute $10 to the team’s treasury. But even so, I always managed to at least get a quick look out of the corner of my eye at George as he gets underway.”
When future Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers arrived for his rookie season in 1965, Halas was asked how Sayers compared to McAfee.
“The highest compliment you can pay any ball carrier is just compare him with McAfee,” said Halas who called McAfee the greatest running back he ever saw.
Jimmy Conzelman was the coach of the Chicago Cardinals during the 1940s and he was amazed by McAfee’s skills.
“McAfee was so slippery because of a hip shaft he used, as well as his speed. That’s something few really fast players ever developed,” said Conzelman. “He puts the defense off-balance and fakes with his head as well as his arms and body.”
McAfee led Ironton High School to an unbeaten season in 1935 as the Tigers outscored opponents 264-24 and was named All-Ohio.
McAfee signed with Duke University and the Blue Devils were 24-4-1 during his three seasons since freshmen were not allowed to play varsity until the 1970s.
McAfee was a first team All-American his senior season at Duke. During his junior year, Duke was unbeaten and unscored upon until losing 7-3 to Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl.
He easily won the 100-yard dash in the Southern Conference track meet and hit .353 as a centerfielder for the baseball team during his senior year as the team went 16-7.
McAfee had four of his prime NFL years erased because of military service during World War II. A 1939 All-American at Duke, he was the second overall pick in the 1940 draft and played the 1940-41 seasons before entering the Navy.
The 6-foot, 165-pounder returned in 1945 and played six more seasons.
McAfee had explosive speed. He was clocked at 9.7 seconds in the 100-yard dash which is between 10.4 and 10.7 seconds in the 100 meters.
McAfee finished his career with 5,313 all-purpose yards with 1,685 yards rushing, 21 touchdowns, 1,359 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, four kick returns for TDs and 25 interceptions in eight seasons.
He led the league in punt return average in 1948 and still holds the NFL record for career punt return average with 12.78 yards for anyone with a minimum of 75 returns.
Called the best running back Chicago Bears George Halas ever coached, McAfee was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1966.
McAfee had four of his prime years erased because of military service during World War II. A 1939 All-American at Duke, he was the second overall pick in the 1940 draft and played the 1940-41 seasons before entering the Navy.
He returned in 1945 and played six more seasons.
After being drafted by the Bears in 1940, it was during his rookie season that he earned the nickname “One-Play McAfee” because of his threat to score at any time on the field whether rushing, catching a pass, intercepting a pass or returning a kickoff or punt.
In his first professional game, he returned a punt 75 yards for a score and with 30 seconds to play to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers.
He also ran back a kickoff 93 yards for a score and threw a TD pass as the Bears beat the Green Bay Packers.
In the NFL championship game, McAfee ran back an interception 34 yards for a score in a 73-0 crushing of the Washington Redskins.
In 1941, he led the league with a 7.3 yards per carry and with 12 TDs in the 11-game season. He helped lead the Bears to the league title again and was named All-Pro for the first time.
When he returned from the military, he helped the Bears win the 1946 championship.
In fact, Bears’ coach George Halas told McAfee he planned to ease him back into playing shape since he had only four days of practice. McAfee told Halas he fully understood.
McAfee played 12 minutes and carried the ball at only five times. It proved to be lucky for the Steelers as McAfee rushed for 105 yards and three touchdowns.
He was named to the NFL 1940s All-Decade Team, was named one of the 100 greatest Bears’ players all-time and had his No. 5 retired. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1966.