McAfee was great athlete & gentleman

Published 3:24 am Monday, March 9, 2009

To look at George McAfee and his 6-foot, 178-pound frame, one would never have guessed he was not only a great football player but a great athlete as well.

A tour of his home and a search for confirmation of his athletic prowess with trophies, plaques, and other hardware would have, well, made you thought he didn’t even like sports.

McAfee was a great all-around football player. He was All-Ohio at Ironton High School, All-American at Duke University, and All-Pro for the Chicago Bears. He had such a distinguished career in eight seasons — he lost his prime years serving in the Navy during World War II — that he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963.

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But McAfee was the ying to the yang of today’s grandstanding players like Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson. There were no items in his home that even suggested he played football, let alone became one of the game’s greatest players. He was always humble and modest.

I remember doing an interview with him once and it was like pulling teeth to get him to say something about himself.

However, he did comment a little on his senior year. After leading Ironton to an unbeaten football season, he was a starter on the basketball team and he helped Ironton beat the famed Waterloo Wonders during the regular season.

Ironton was a Class A school and Waterloo Class B, so they never played during the tournament.

Ironton lost a close game at Waterloo, then won the rematch at home. McAfee said it was a physical game — imagine Ironton basketball playing physical — and there were complaints that the game was too rough for the Wonders’ liking.

Were you a bunch of football players playing basketball? McAfee just kind of laughed and admitted they were physical, but they had a good group of athletes, too.

When McAfee died last Wednesday at the age of 90, his grandson Paul McAfee Stouffer sent me a message that his grandfather didn’t travel much because of his age, but he always seemed to light up when there was a mention of Ironton.

“I’d like to go back there some time,” George told his grandson.

Stouffer said it was only four weeks ago that his grandfather was making plans to return to his hometown this summer.

George McAfee grew up in a large family at 1110 South Ninth Street. His brother John was a three-sport star at Ohio State in football, basketball and his best sport, baseball. No matter where he went, George always called Ironton home.

Services for George McAfee are tentatively set for Friday in Durham, N.C., his other home after retiring from the NFL. It was also the town where he played college football.

But no matter where George McAfee lived, his heart was always in Ironton. And George McAfee can rest assured that he will always be in the hearts of Ironton.

–– Sinatra ––

Jim Walker is sports editor of The Ironton Tribune.