Alphonse E. (Tuffy) Leemans, 66, the greatest football player to come out of George Washington University and a recently inducted member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, died after suffering a heart attack yesterday in Miami.
Mr. Leemans, who starred with the New York Giants for nine seasons after leaving GW, was to have been honored at Super Bowl halftime along with Weeb Ewbank, Lance Alworth, Larry Wilson and Ray Nietschke. The group was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on July 29.
"I'm sitting here now with Weeb Ewbank," Mr. Leemans said happily when he was told of his election, "and we both think we're really lucky for a couple of old guys like us to make the Hall. I didn't really think I'd ever make it. There are so many other guys who deserve to be there but didn't make it.
"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. If I had to give a speech right now, I'd bust out crying."
Mr. Leemans did "bust out crying" at the ceremonies in Canton after being presented by Wellington Mara, president of the New York Giants and the man who urged his late father, Tim Mara, to sign the all-purpose back from the "small" school of George Washington.
Tim Mara did and Mr. Leemans became one of the finest backs in the NFL. He ran, kicked, passed and played what would now be free safety on defense in the days of 60-minute football.
Mr. Leemans signed with the Giants for $3,500, sum boosted considerably by his unexpected stardom in the 1936 game between the College All-Stars and the Detroit Lions, which ended in a 7-7 tie.
Under the format for the College All-Star game, which was discontinued a number of years ago, the fans selected the collegians for the annual confrontation with the winner of the NFL championship the year before.
The late Arch Ward, sports editor of the Chicago Tribune, sponsor of the game, was rocked when Mr. Leemans received a record vote of more than 300,000 to lead such All-Americas as Bill Shakespeare of Notre Dame and Jay Berwanger of Chicago.
The story came out later of how the ballot boxes were "stuffed" -- without Mr. Leemans' knowledge -- by the late Vincent X. Flaherty, then a columnist for the old Washington Herald. Flaherty knew that the votes never were counted, but, instead, were weighed. So he had bales of hay sent to Chicago with legitimate votes covering the outside of the bales.
But there was a glorious ending to the provincial chicanery. In practice with the all-star squad, Mr. Leemans was relegated to the bench with the comment from one coach: "He's too clumsy for a back."
But given a chance in practice, Mr. Leemans carried back a punt 78 yards for a touchdown. Then he ran 75 yards from scrimmage for another TD and the first-team job was his. He was named the outstanding player in that 1936 game.
Although he was used sparingly in his first two games with the Giants, Mr. Leemans became the NFL's leading rusher his rookie year with 830 yards. His retirement in 1943 was brought on by an injury that left him with a hearing defect, preventing his enlistment into the armed forces during World War II.
Subsequently, Mr. Leemans was a backfield coach at George Washington and an assistant to Joe Gallager at St. John's during the Cadets' years of domination of local high school football.
He also coached Bishop John Carroll High School and was the first local high school coach to schedule a scrimmage with an all-black school, Armstrong.
Mr. Leemans served as president of the Touchdown Club in 1957. At one time, he owned a cleaning establishment and a bowling alley. He lived in Silver Spring.
Born in Allouez, Wis., which also was the birthplace of Hall of Famer Ernie Nevers, Mr. Leemans grew up in Superior, Wis., and transferred to GW from the University of Oregon.
"I was a kid who used to work the iron ore boats on vacation from high school," he reminsced at his induction into the Hall of Fame. "I also worked as a fireman shoveling coal. But I was of hardy, Belgian stock and that early hard work helped me as a football player. I have achieved everything I ever wanted. I am a happy man."
In his prime as a player, Mr. Leemans weighed 180 pounds but in later years ballooned to more than 300 and was warned by doctors to reduce.
Mr. Leemans is survived by his wife of 41 years, Theodora. They had two children, Joseph, who died in 1977, and Diane. Mr. Leemans' father, Joseph, lives in a nursing home in Wisconsin.