When Tuffy Leemans is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton on Saturday he will rightfully direct praise at his presenter, Peter Gury, his 79-year-old high school coach at East High in Superior, Wis.
Leemans might save a paragraph or two, however, for The Washington Post and the Star, plus a couple of defunct journals of the mid-30s, the Times Herald and the News. Without the stories they carried about his prowess with the George Washington University football team he never would have a come to the attention of the New York Giants, with whom he became a star in his rookie year.
Wellinton Mara, now Giant president and at the time a college youth who ran the Giants' scouting system out of a three-ring notebook and a pocket address book, recalled the circumstances under which Leemans came to his team's attention. "Lucky" is a mild word.
"We had no scouting system in those days," recalled Mara. "My father had lots of friends and they'd drop him a note or call him, if they saw someone who looked good.
"Ned Irish had left the newspaper business and was promoting basketball. He had the Garden in New York and was doing well and he wanted to branch out into other cities like Philadelphia. Buffalo and Washington, all good college basketball towns. He was a newspaper guy who read newspapers.
"Every time he was in Washington the papers were full of what Leemans was doing. There'd be stories by (Shirley) Povich and Bob Considine and Jack Espey and Ned would clip everything and send it to me. After the draft was over I went down and signed Leemans even though none of our people had ever seen him. Gave him a pretty good contract, too, for the time: $2,500."
The Spalding guide for 1937 tells about Tuffy's first year in which he was the leading rusher with 830 yards (three more than the Lions' Ace Gutowsky even though Tuffy wasn't used much in the first two games. Said Mara: "That's probably because he had been involved in the All-Star Game." It also mentioned his being the Giants' second draft choice. Who was No. 1?
"Art Lewis," replied Mara."He was a tackle from Ohio State. They called him "Pappy." He played only one year and then went to coach Ohio Wesleyan. Then he came back as a player coach with Cleveland . . . the Rams, who preceeded the present Browns. Later he was coach at West Virginia and had a lot of good players who went into the pros.
"Thing I remember about Tuffy was that he scored a torchdown the first time he ever carried the ball. It was against Boston."
Mara also recalled that a blow Leemans took in a game with the Bears caused permanent impairment to the hearing of one ear. "I don't remember the play because I wasn't there," he said, "but I do remember it affected his balance for a while."
Leemans was a Giant regular through 1943, then retired. Said Mara: "I guess he felt he couldn't do the things he had been doing."