Alphonse (Tuffy) Leemans, 65, the obscure George Washington University fullback who won the most valuable player award in the 1936 College All-Star Game and later starred with the New York Giants, was elected yesterday to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Joining Leemans were Weeb Ewbank, 70, former coach of the Baltimore Colts and New York Jets; Lance Alworth, 37, wide receiver of the San Diego Chargers and Dallas Cowboys; Larry Wilson, 39, defensive back with the St. Louis Cardinals, and Ray Nietschke, 41, linebacker with the Green Bay Packers.
The five men were presented during halftime at the Pro Bowl game in Tampa last night and will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame at Canton, Ohio, on July 29.
Contacted in Tampa yesterday, Leemans expressed his gratitude to the 29 members of the Hall's Board of Selectors, comprising media personnel from each NFL city. The vote was made the day before Super Bowl 12.
"I'm sitting here now with Weeb Ewbank," Leemans said. "We both think we're really lucky for a couple of old guys like us. To me, this is like kicking through on the last five years for a touchdown.
"I owe an awful lot to a lot of people who kept plugging for me to get into the Hall of Fame. You know, it's quite a feeling to think that you now belong among the best football players of all time. Money can never take the place of what a man achieves. This is it. If I had to give a speech now, I'd bust out crying."
Leemans' wife, the former Theodora Rinaldi who is known as "T", was with him in Tampa. She campaigned for many years to have her husband recognized by the Hall of Fame and sent out countless letters. "I'm just as thrilled as Tuffy," she said. "And am I having fun here with these super athletes. I also met Don Meredith today and that made my day."
Leemans was an "ugly duckling" story. Born in Superior, Wis., Leemans transferred from the University of Oregon to George Washington in 1933. He became a legend at GW in the days that the Colonials, thirsting for national recognition, played such powers as Alabama, LSU, Tennessee, Rice, Vanderbilt and Oklahoma. Leemans was a 180-pounder when he played for GW and was a triple threat as a runner, passer and punter.
Although he was well known in the East, the GW player did not get national recognition. A newspaperman, the late Vincent X. Flaherty of the Washington Times-Herald, decided to publicize leemans.
In those days, the College All-Star Game, sponsored by the Chicago Tribune, conducted a vote among the fans of the nation. Flaherty unashamedly admitted he had "stuffed the ballot box." Flaherty had bales of hay sent to Chicago with legitimate votes covering the outside. To the astonishment of the Tribune, it was announced that Leemans polled more than a half-million votes.
Still, a few were convinced of his ability and Leemans was a substitute until two scrimmage in which he reeled off runs of 75 and 78 yards. That made him a starter against the Detroit Lions and with his help, the collegians gained a 7-7 tie. Flaherty and the Washington area were vindicated when leemans was named the most valuable player of the game.
Wellington Mara, son of Tim Mara, owner of the Giants, was a high school boy on vacation in Washington when he saw Leemans play and recommended the GW star to his father. Leemans was the No. 2 pick of the Giant in the first college draft in 1936.
Leemans finished his eight-year pro career in 1943 with 3,142 yards rushing and 2,324 yards passing. He scored 20 touchdowns and passed for 16 more.
Leemans owns a bowling alley in Glenmont, Md.
Alworth, one of only two players to gain more than 10,000 yards on pass receptions, is the second American Football League player to make the Hall. Don Maynard is the other.
Ewbank, now retired in Oxford, Ohio, is the only man to coach Championship teams in both the AFL and NFL. He coached for 20 seasons and guided such players as Johnny Unitas and Joe Namath. It was his 1968 New York Jets team that stunned the Baltimore Colts, with a 16-7 upset in Super Bowl 3.
Ewbank's Colts won the 1958 NFL championship game in a 23-17 sudden-death overtime victory over the New York Giants in what is often called the greatest pro football game ever played.
Wilson joined the Cardinals in 1960 just after they had moved from Chicago to St. Louis. He was one of the premier safeties in the league for the next 13 years.
Nietschke played 15 seasons for the Green Bay Packers, mostly under the late Vince Lombardi. He joins former teammates Jim Taylor, Bart Starr and Forrest Gregg in the Hall. Nietschke, Green Bay's third draft pick in 1958, came out of the University of Illinois as a fullback but he was shifted to the middle linebacker spot and was an All-Pro four times. He also was named the top NFL linebacker of the first 50 years by his fellow players.