Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ex-Duke Football Great McAfee Dies

One of Duke's finest former athletes has died.

George McAfee, a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame, died Wednesday evening in Durham, Duke announced Thursday. He was 90.

A native of Ironton, Ohio, McAfee was a football letterman at Duke from 1937-39. He helped the Blue Devils to a three-year record of 24-4-1 with two Southern Conference championships. Duke won the conference in 1938 and 1939 and appeared in the Rose Bowl after the 1938 season.

As a senior in 1939, McAfee led Duke in rushing, receiving, scoring, kickoff returns, punt returns, interceptions and punting en route to earning first team All-America honors as the Blue Devils went 8-1.

In the spring of his senior year, McAfee batted .353 while playing center field on Duke's baseball squad that went 16-7 and also captured the 100-meter crown at the Southern Conference track and field championships.

"Da Bears"

Halfback George McAfee at 6-0 and 178 pounds did not have the physique of the average pro football player, even in the 1940’s when he starred for the Chicago Bears.

Bears founder and coach George Halas, who signed the the Duke All-America after he was the No.2 overall pick in the 1940 draft, wondered if he had made the right decision.

From the start, however, McAfee established himself as an explosive game breaker, the kind of back that was a threat to go all the way every time he had the ball.

In his first exhibition game, George returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown with just seconds remaining to defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers. In the 1940 regular-season opener, he ran back a kickoff 93 yards and threw a touchdown pass in a 41-10 Bears victory over arch-rival Green Bay.

Nicknamed "one-play McAfee" he was known for explosive speed. 1941 was a banner year for McAfee. He lead the league with an eye-popping 7.3 rushing yards per carry while scoring a league high 12 touchdowns in an eleven game season.

While his rushing yardage totals seem modest by today's standards he had to share the backfield with other outstanding running backs such as Hugh Gallarneau, Norm Standlee, and Bill Osmanski as well as hall of fame quarterback Sid Luckman.

In the historic 73-0 rout of the Washington Redskins in the 1940 NFL Championship Game, McAfee contributed a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Versatility was the name of McAfee's game. In 1941 his 12 touchdown total consisted of 6 by rushing, 3 receiving, 1 by punt return, 1 by kickoff return, and 1 by interception return all while helping the Chicago Bears to their second straight NFL league championship over the New York Giants.

When the United States entered World War II, McAfee joined the US Navy. After the war he returned to Chicago and played for another four years.

During his time playing football, he scored 234 points, gained 5,313 combined net yards, intercepted 25 passes in eight seasons, held the record for punt return average at 12.78 yards, and was the NFL punt return champion.

To be compared to McAfee by Halas was considered the highest compliment.

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