"Ol" Tuffy was a softle, Alfonse Leemans confessed yesterday as he turnde back the clock 40 years and his weight back to 70 pounds to the days he was a running back with the New York Giants.
"It is like living it all over again," said Leemans, a product of George Washington University who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame here today.
Current football players may be jaded about such honors, but for the fellows with curly shocks of gray hair like Leemans, the passage of time has enriched the distinction of induction.
Leemans said he is not ordinarily an emotional man, yet when a representative of the Hall of Fame called him in January he knew something special was about to be happen.
"He said to me, Tuff, are you sitting or standing? I have some news for you. You just made it to the Hall of Frame."
"I chocked up like kid. I know it will happen again at the formal ceremony here. The rest of the guys feel pretty much the same way - 'this is it.'
"It's the biggest thing that has happened in my life since I married my wonderful wife Theodora. We've been married 41 years.
"I am a kid from Superior, Wis., who used to work the iron ore boats to vacations from high school. I was a fireman shoveling coal. It was hard but I was a strong kid of Belgian stock, about 200-208 pounds. It made me strong."
Leemans remembered playing at GW with fellows like Howard Tahila, who still is active in the Colonials' booster club.
"I was the first player ever signed by Wellington Mara (now president of the New York Giants)," Leemans said. "Would you believe he was only 17 years old at the time. Leonard Walsh, who later became a judge in Washington, was my coach.
"I signed for $3,500, with no bonus. Cliff Battles was a big name (he already is in the Hall of Fame). But he got only $2,400 from George Preston Marshall (founder of the Washington Redskins).
"There were a lot of 'ifs' and 'ands' in the contract at the end of my career. You know, if we won the title, if I finish among the leaders in statistics. My last salary was $14,500. But I have no regrets."
Leemans disagreed that pro football was a sometime thing in his day.
"We had to be able to go pretty good," he said. "We played 60 minutes, both ways. I was a safety on defense who was not fast but could move pretty good. I ran back all the punts. And we had only 23 players on our squads."
There were curfews in those times, but Leemans was not much of a run-around. "I was fined $50 once, but for something I did in a game. We were playing against the Redskins and we were within reach of them when I saw dark clouds building up over old Griffith stadium.
"I said to Mel Hein, our center and captain, 'I see their defensive backs sneaking up: I've got to throw a pass.' Hein warned me that Coach Steve Owen did not permit us to pass unless we were near the other team's 40-yard line. I said, "To hell with it; I'm going to do it anyhow, it's going to rain.' I did, for a 60-yard touchdown to Bill Walls.
"Funny, wenever made a first down otherwise or gained a yard running from scrimmage but the Redskins had over 300 yards of total offense. Yet we won, 13-7. We scored early on an interception against Dick Poillion (who had started in place of Sammy Baugh).
"Owen fined me, but he gave it back at the end of the season.
"God, I'm glad was part of it. . . the friendships, the camaraderie.
Leeman's playoff check for winning the NFL title in 1938 was for $288. A running, passing kicking threat, he led the National Footbal League in rushing as a rookie and twice was selected All-NFL.
A Redskin fan and operator of a bowling alley in Silver Spring, he says he has new "life" even if only for one euphoric weekend.