'Reds' McAfee, scrappy star in classic upset

Joseph P. "Reds" McAfee, in his Holy Cross College years.
Joseph P. "Reds" McAfee, in his Holy Cross College years.
Posted: December 09, 2013

Joseph P. "Reds" McAfee, 91, an elusive running back who played in one of the most famous upsets in college football history, died Wednesday, Dec. 4, of heart failure at the Solana Horsham development. He had lived in Horsham for many years.

"He's red-headed and fast and slippery as an eel in the ocean," one sportswriter wrote of Mr. McAfee.

Said another scribe: "He is a fiery competitor who makes up for his lack of poundage with flaming spirit."

Mr. McAfee was a freshman playing for underdog Holy Cross College on Nov. 28, 1942, when it took on mighty Boston College, then ranked No. 1 in the nation.

Boston College was undefeated, having crushed its previous opponents by a combined score of 249-19.

Mr. McAfee helped set the tone early on with a 55-yard punt return. Holy Cross dominated and won, 55-12.

In a coda, Boston College's disbelieving players and their fans canceled a planned victory celebration that night at Cocoanut Grove, then Boston's premier nightclub. The notorious fire there that evening claimed 492 lives.

After serving in the Navy during World War II, Mr. McAfee completed his education at Holy Cross and went on to build a career in insurance and accounting.

Mr. McAfee grew up with his sister, Anna, and brother, James, at the corner of Devon Street and Locust Avenue in East Germantown. There, his parents ran a grocery and an ice-delivery business.

Before the war, he and his younger brother thrilled Philadelphians as leaders of the St. John's High School football team in Manayunk.

With Joe as quarterback and Jimmy as halfback, the pair were standouts at their tiny school (enrollment: 125 boys), battling rivals with far more students.

In that era, high school football games were avidly followed, and a typical game could draw 12,000 spectators.

After the war, Mr. McAfee returned to Holy Cross and graduated in 1947. He was invited to try out for both the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears, but declined because of recurring knee injuries.

He returned to Philadelphia, where he met Regina McGinley from Olney. They married in 1950 and were together more than 60 years until she died in 2011.

Together they raised seven children in West Oak Lane and Horsham.

Mr. McAfee worked for many years in the insurance business for National Life & Accident Insurance Co. before switching careers.

In his second act, he was an accountant/controller for the Flynn & O'Hara Uniform Co. in Northeast Philadelphia, one of the nation's largest makers of school uniforms. He worked there until he retired at age 80.

In addition to his sister, Mr. McAfee is survived by daughters Maureen Conley, Kathleen McAfee, Eileen Wilson, and Regina Jones; sons Joseph P. Jr., Michael J., and James D.; 22 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. His brother died earlier.

Viewings will be Monday, Dec. 9, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., and Tuesday, Dec. 10, from 9:30 to 11 a.m., at St. Alphonsus Roman Catholic Church, 33 Cornwell Dr., Maple Glen. A Funeral Mass will be said Tuesday, Dec. 10, at 11 a.m. at the church. Interment will follow in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Cheltenham.


cmccoy@phillynews.com

215-854-4821

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