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Tuffy Leemans

Tuffy Leemans
refer to caption
Leemans in 1939
No. 4
Position:Fullback, halfback
Personal information
Born:(1912-11-12)November 12, 1912
Superior, Wisconsin, U.S.
Died:January 19, 1979(1979-01-19) (aged 66)
Hillsboro Beach, Florida, U.S.
Height:6 ft 0 in (1.83 m)
Weight:195 lb (88 kg)
Career information
High school:Superior (WI) East
College:George Washington (1933–1935)
NFL draft:1936 / Round: 2 / Pick: 18
Career history
As a player:
As a coach:
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Rushing yards:3,130
Yards per carry:3.4
Rushing touchdowns:17
Passing yards:2,318
Player stats at PFR

Alphonse Emil "Tuffy" Leemans (November 12, 1912 – January 19, 1979) was an American professional football player who was a fullback and halfback who played on both offense and defense for the New York Giants of the National Football League (NFL). He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1978 and was named in 1969 to the NFL 1930s All-Decade Team.

A native of Superior, Wisconsin, Leemans played college football for Oregon's freshman team in 1932 and for George Washington from 1933 to 1935. He was drafted by the Giants in the second round of the 1936 NFL draft and played eight years for the Giants from 1936 to 1943. He led the NFL as a rookie with 830 rushing yards and was selected as a first-team All-Pro in 1936 and 1939. He was also selected to play in the Pro Bowl in 1938 and 1941 and helped lead the Giants to the 1938 NFL Championship and the 1939 and 1941 NFL Championship Games.

After his playing career ended, Leemans worked briefly as a backfield coach for the Giants and at George Washington. He also operated a laundry and dry cleaning business and a duckpin bowling alley.

Early life

Leemans was born in 1912 in Superior, Wisconsin.[1] His father Joseph Leemans (1887-1979) immigrated from Belgium in 1909 and worked as hoister for the Pittsburg Coal Co. on the coal dock in Superior.[2][3] His mother Hortense (1897-1964) was born in Illinois, the daughter of Belgian immigrants. Leemans had three younger sisters Carolyn, Dorothy, and Doris.[2]

Leemans attended East High School in Superior.[1] In his 1978 speech upon being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Leemans recalled growing up in Superior: "I was a kid who used to work the iron ore boats on vacation from high school. 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."[4]

Football career


In 1932, Leemans enrolled at the University of Oregon where he was a member of the freshman football team.[5] He then transferred to George Washington University where he was the star of the George Washington Colonials football team from 1933 to 1935. In his three years at George Washington, he rushed for 2,382 yards on 490 carries for an average of 4.86 yards per carry. He also passed for 966 yards and returned 84 punts for 984 yards, an average of 11.7 yards per return.[6]

New York Giants

Leemans was drafted by the New York Giants in the second round (18th overall pick) of the 1936 NFL draft.[7] Wellington Mara, son of Giants owner Tim Mara, saw Leemans play for George Washington and recommended to his father that the Giants sign him. Mara later said, "If I'm remembered for nothing else, I'd like to be remembered for discovering Tuffy Leemans."[8]

In his first NFL season, Leemans played at the fullback position for the Giants and led the NFL with 830 rushing yards and an average of 69.2 rushing yards per game.[1][9] He also impressed with his defensive play at the safety position.[10] He was the only rookie to be honored by the NFL as a first-team player on the 1936 All-Pro Team.[1][11] After the season ended, Leemans reported that he found it easier to make long gains in the NFL rather than college, citing better blocking in the professional ranks.[12]

Following rumors that he intended to retire from professional football after one season, Leemans signed a contract in August 1937 to return to the Giants.[10] During the 1937 season, Leemans did not have the same level of success as in 1936. Hank Soar took over as the Giants' leading rusher in 1937, and Leemans gained only 429 rushing yards, roughly half his total from the prior year.[13] Despite the reduced offensive output, Leemans continued to garner credit for his overall play and was selected by the NFL and the New York Daily News as a second-team player on the 1937 All-Pro Team.[1]

Leemans also played professional basketball during the off-season, joining the Heurich Brewers in Washington, D.C., after the 1937 NFL season.[14]

Leemans continued to be one of the NFL's leading players, receiving either first- or second-team All-Pro honors every year from 1936 through 1942. He received first-team honors in 1936 and 1939 and second-team honors in each of the remaining years.[1] He was also selected to play in the Pro Bowl in 1938 and 1941.[1] He ranked second in the NFL in rushing yardage in 1938 with 463 yards and third in 1940 with 474 yards.[1] He also helped lead the Giants to the 1938 NFL Championship as well as the 1939 and 1941 NFL Championship Games.

On December 7, 1941, the Giants celebrated "Tuffy Leemans Day," presenting him with a silver tray and $1,500 in defense bonds.[15] The radio broadcast of the game on WOR was interrupted with an announcement of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor,[16] and an urgent announcement was made at the Polo Grounds asking William J. Donovan (wartime head of the Office of Strategic Services) to call Operator 19 in Washington.[15] However, most of the spectators and players at the Polo Grounds remained unaware of the attack until after the game.[16] Leemans' attempts to enlist in the Navy and Army during World War II were rejected on multiple occasions due to defective hearing in one ear caused by a concussion sustained in a football game as well as poor eyesight.[17]

Leemans retired from football after the 1942 season.[18] He signed on as a backfield coach with the Giants in 1943, but shortly before the season started, he opted to return as a player for one final year.[19] He appeared in 10 games during the 1943 season, only one as a starter.[1] He retired again after the 1943 season.

Leemans appeared in 80 NFL games with the Giants from 1936 to 1943. He totaled 3,132 rushing yards on 919 carries (3.4 yards per carry) and 17 rushing touchdowns, 2,318 passing yards and 25 passing touchdowns, 422 receiving yards on 28 receptions, and 339 yards on punt and kickoff returns.[1] Leemans also played on defense. Alex Wojciechowicz, a fellow Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee who played against Leemans, recalled: "Leemans was probably greater on defense than he was on offense. He was a bugger on defense, all over the field, always in on the action."[20]


After his playing career ended, Leemans continued for one year as the Giants' backfield coach in 1944.[21] However, he retired from coaching in August 1945 to devote his time to his laundry business.[22]

He returned to coaching in 1946 as the part-time backfield coach for the George Washington Colonials while continuing to operate his laundry and dry cleaning business.[23]

Leemans also coached football at St. John's College High School and Archbishop Carroll High School, both in Washington, D. C.[4]

NFL career statistics

Won NFL championship
Led the league
Bold Career high
Year Team Games Rushing Receiving
GP GS Att Yds Avg Y/G Lng TD Rec Yds Avg Lng TD
1936 NYG 12 4 206 830 4.0 69.2 2 4 22 5.5 8 0
1937 NYG 9 8 144 429 3.0 47.7 0 11 157 14.3 18 1
1938 NYG 10 3 121 463 3.8 46.3 75 4 4 68 17.0 45 0
1939 NYG 10 2 128 429 3.4 42.9 3 8 185 23.1 50 2
1940 NYG 10 2 132 474 3.6 47.4 1
1941 NYG 11 11 100 332 3.3 30.2 26 4
1942 NYG 8 6 51 116 2.3 14.5 16 3 1 -10 -10.0 -10 0
1943 NYG 10 1 37 59 1.6 5.9 13 0
Career 80 37 919 3,132 3.4 39.2 75 17 28 422 15.1 50 3

Passing statistics

Year Team Passing
Cmp Att Pct Yds Avg TD Int Lng Rtg
1936 NYG 13 42 31.0 258 6.1 3 6 37.7
1937 NYG 5 20 25.0 64 3.2 1 1 36.2
1938 NYG 19 42 45.2 249 7.1 3 6 48.7
1939 NYG 12 26 46.2 198 7.6 0 2 40.2
1940 NYG 15 31 48.4 159 5.1 2 3 45.7
1941 NYG 31 66 47.0 475 7.2 4 5 44 59.8
1942 NYG 35 69 50.7 555 8.0 7 4 50 87.5
1943 NYG 37 87 42.5 360 4.1 5 5 28 50.0
Career 167 383 43.6 2,318 6.1 25 32 50 50.6

Later years and honors

In June 1937, after his great rookie season, Leemans married Theodora Rinaldi at St. Michael's Catholic Church in Silver Spring, Maryland.[24] They remained married for 41 years (until Leemans' death) had two children, Joseph, who died in 1977, and Diane, who passed in 2023.[4][25]

Leemans and his wife lived in Silver Spring, Maryland. Leemans operated a duckpin bowling alley known as Tuffy Leemans' Glenmont Lanes.[26] He also operated a laundry and dry cleaning business in the Washington, D. C., and Silver Spring dating back to and following his years as a football player.[27][17][28] He was also active in the Washington D.C. Touchdown Club and was elected as the organization's president in 1956.[29]

In 1969, Leemans was selected as one of the backs on the NFL 1930s All-Decade Team.[30]

In 1978, Leemans was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. At the induction ceremony, he was introduced by his high school football coach Peter Guzy. In his speech, Leemans mentioned two of his teammates, Mel Hein, the Hall of Fame center, and Leland Shaffer, who Leemans credited as "my top blocker".[31]

Leemans' weight rose in his later years to 300 pounds from his playing weight of 180 pounds.[4] In January 1979, less than six months after his induction into the Hall of Fame, Leemans died from a heart attack at age 66 at his condominium in Hillsboro Beach, Florida.[32][4] He was interred at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Silver Spring.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Tuffy Leemans". Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved October 3, 2017.
  2. ^ a b 1930 U.S. Census entry for Joseph Leemans and family. Son Alphonse age 17 born in Wisconsin. Census Place: Superior, Douglas, Wisconsin; Roll: 2570; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 0042; FHL microfilm: 2342304. 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line].
  3. ^ Draft Registration Card for Joseph Leemans dated June 5, 1917. Registration State: Wisconsin; Registration County: Douglas; Roll: 1674994; Draft Board: 2. U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line].
  4. ^ a b c d e Bob Addie (January 20, 1979). "'Tuffy' Leemans Dies". The Washington Post.
  5. ^ The Oregana (University of Oregon yearbook), 1933, pp. 187, 254.
  6. ^ "Leemans Has Fine Record on Gridiron". The Hartford Daily Courant. December 20, 1935. p. 24 – via
  7. ^ "1936 NFL Draft Listing". Retrieved March 20, 2023.
  8. ^ "Wellington Mara: A Giant" (PDF). The Coffin Corner. Pro Football Researchers. 1997. Retrieved October 3, 2017.
  9. ^ "Herber Sets New Passing Records in Pro Football". Chicago Tribune. December 10, 1936. p. 26 – via
  10. ^ a b "Leemans Signs Grid Contract". The Evening News. August 11, 1937. p. 13 – via
  11. ^ "Alphonse Leemans". Pro Football Hall of Fame. Retrieved October 3, 2017.
  12. ^ "Pro Football Not So Tough Says Leemans". Chicago Tribune. December 10, 1936. p. 26 – via
  13. ^ "1937 New York Giants Statistics & Players". Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved October 3, 2017.
  14. ^ "Leemans, Pro Gridder, Joins Brewers Quintet". Cumberland Sunday Times. December 12, 1937. p. 6 – via
  15. ^ a b "Lazy Sunday turned into Day of Infamy". Longview News-Journal (from New York Times Service). December 7, 1980. p. 6 – via
  16. ^ a b "Tuffy Leemans Day turned tragic in 1941". The Washington Times. December 5, 2005.
  17. ^ a b "Tuffy Leemans Is Rejected by Army". Journal and Courier. July 8, 1943. p. 19 – via
  18. ^ "Mel Hein, Leemans To Leave Pro Ranks". Arizona Republic. December 3, 1942. p. 14 – via
  19. ^ "Leemans to Play Again With Football Giants". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. October 8, 1943. p. 13 – via
  20. ^ "Leemans Put Giants on NFL Map". Asbury Park Press. January 24, 1979. p. C6 – via
  21. ^ "Giants Appoint Assistant Coach". Arizona Republic. February 29, 1944. p. 9 – via
  22. ^ "One-Minute Sport Page". Corsicana Daily Sun. August 22, 1945. p. 7 – via
  23. ^ "Tuffy Leemans Chosen". The Cincinnati Enquirer. April 21, 1946. p. 26 – via
  24. ^ ""Tuffy" Leemans Wed to Theodora Rinaldi". The Eau Claire Leader. June 13, 1937. p. 10 – via
  25. ^ "Obituary information for Diane Leemans Kelley".
  26. ^ "'Tuffy's Place' to close". The Gazette. July 31, 2002. Archived from the original on October 3, 2017. Retrieved October 3, 2017.
  27. ^ "Marshall, Leemans Rivals In Business". Cumberland Evening Times. December 18, 1939. p. 10 – via
  28. ^ "untitled". Press and Sun-Bulletin. February 21, 1948. p. 13.
  29. ^ "Tuffy Leemans Named Touchdown Club Prexy". Green Bay Press-Gazette. September 26, 1956. p. 23 – via
  30. ^ "Hutson, Herber Head Selections For 1930s Team". Fremont (OH) News-Messenger. August 26, 1969. p. 11 – via
  31. ^ "'Tuffy' Leemans Inducted Into Hall". Fort Lauderdale News and Sun-Sentinel. July 30, 1978. p. 8C.
  32. ^ "Tuffy Leemans Dies; Giants' Star Was 66". The New York Times. January 20, 1979.
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Tuffy Leemans
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