The dog days of the offseason are finally behind us now that training camp is underway, just in time for our countdown of the Top 100 Chicago Bears of all time to really heat up. As we get closer to the season opener, we get closer to naming the #1 Chicago Bear of all time.
After an All-American career at Duke which included not only football but a .353 batting average on the baseball team and a 100-meter track championship, George McAfee joined the Bears in 1940. George “Papa Bear” Halas had his doubts about McAfee from the beginning after seeing his 6’0, 177 pound frame line up among the rest of the original Monsters of the Midway, but it didn’t take Halas long to change his mind as McAfee ripped off a long run on his first carry in practice, spinning away from a linebacker and making a few guys miss in the open field.
McAfee was good as a rookie (5.4 ypc) but really broke out in his second year with the Bears. In 1941 McAfee led the NFL with a 7.3 yards per carry average and 12 total TDs. McAfee was an explosive running back but he did so much more for the Bears, here is a breakdown of his 12 TDs: 6 rushing, 3 receiving, 1 punt return TD, 1 kick return TD, 1 interception return TD. That’s right, interception return. Like many players in the 30s and 40s, McAfee was a 2-way player who also played cornerback for the Bears and had 25 interceptions in his 8-year career.
McAfee made the Pro Bowl in ’41 and was named 1st team All-NFL, but left the NFL for Naval duty after the ’41 season. In McAfee’s first two seasons with the Bears they won the NFL Championship, but he wouldn’t be back until 1945. Due to injuries and rust from his navy tour, McAfee only played three games in both the ’45 & ’46 season, but did contribute to the Bears ’46 Championship. McAfee played every game over the next three seasons (’47-’49) and scored 17 touchdowns over that three-year stretch, but was never quite as explosive as that ’41 season.
Besides his 12.8 yards per punt return average that was an NFL record for many years, McAfee’s career stats aren’t that impressive. McAfee left the NFL in his prime to join the Navy and only played roughly 6+ seasons in the NFL. His career stats aren’t going to wow anyone, but the fact that he was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1966 and the comments from his coaches and contemporaries should. When George Halas was asked to compare rookie Gale Sayers to McAfee, his response was “The highest compliment you can pay any ball carrier, is just compare him with McAfee”. Hall of Famer Red Grange called McAfee “the most dangerous man with the football in the game” and rival head coach Curly Lambeau called McAfee “the most talented back the Packers ever faced”.
McAfee’s nickname, One-Play McAfee, says it all. He was one of the best athletes and most explosive players of his generation. McAfee is in the Duke Hall of Fame, the college football Hall of Fame, the NFL Hall of Fame and is one of the few players to have his number (#5) retired by the Chicago Bears.
What do you think of the ranking? Too high? Too low? I guess you’ll have to check back to see who finished ahead of him to judge for yourself. We’ll be counting down a different person each day as we inch our way to the September 7th season opener.