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Remembering Jim Furey, 1961 New York Titans LB, Who Died Last Month at 91

Injury Ended His Pro Playing Career Too Quickly, but He Had a Lifelong Love of Football and Athletic Competition


Longtime fans of the long-ago New York Titans might recall a linebacker who jumped out on their defense in 1961, their second year of existence. Yes, Larry Grantham was there, starting out on his stellar career that would lead to his induction a half century later into the New York Jets Ring of Honor, but that's not who we're referring to.

Jim Furey was a well-traveled 'backer who started out in high school in Newark, NJ, played at Kansas State, then in the CFL, before wowing the Titans in a summer tryout in 1961.

His American pro football days didn't last long — an injury ended his playing career later that season. But he enjoyed a much longer run in his North Jersey stomping grounds as a high school and semipro football coach and top doubles handball player.

Furey died Jan. 28 in Livingston, NJ. He was 91.

Furey took a circuitous path to the American Football League. From K-State, where he also played baseball, he was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the 13th round (157th overall) of the 1956 NFL Draft — as a center — but was a final cut of the Browns that September.

He journeyed north of the border and had a short but strong career with Calgary and British Columbia from 1958-60. His signature season was '58 when he had three interceptions and four fumble recoveries for the Stampeders and was named to the CFL Coaches All-Star Team.

He left the BC Lions after their '60 season because head coach Sammy Baugh and the Titans were in search of a linebacker. In the AFL days of yore, tryouts were often hour-long contact scrimmages. Furey had already played (and was injured) in the Titans' preseason opener at Dallas but two weeks later was invited to the tryout.

"If Furey can do the job, that will simplify matters," Baugh said of fitting his defense together to his liking. Furey did the job and then some and was soon installed as the Titans' starting strong linebacker alongside MLB Hubert Bobo and weakside 'backer Grantham.

Individual defensive statistics of that era are hard to come by, but Furey, wearing No. 50 in navy and gold, was definitely throwing his 6-0, 230-pound frame around. After nine weeks of the '61 season, the Titans were 4-4 and were No. 2 in the league in total yards and net passing yards allowed/game.

However, on the second play of New York's ninth game, against Oakland at the Polo Grounds, Furey went down with torn right knee ligaments and was done for the season. With Grantham having departed for military service a week earlier and WR Don Maynard sidelined with his own multiweek injury, the Titans, despite beating the Raiders 23-12, moved sideways to a 7-7 non-playoffs record, with their defensive ranking sliding to a seventh-place finish in the eight-team league.

Furey's pigskin career was done, but he took his love of football, athletic competition and North Jersey with him into his post-playing days. He served as defensive coordinator for the semipro Jersey Jays, which played their games in Newark and Jersey City.

He also taught and coached — and even served as assistant principal — for more than three decades at Rutherford High School, on the other side of Route 17 from the future home of the Titans and New York Jets in the New Jersey Meadowlands. He guided the Gaels to NJSIAA playoff berths in 1991 and '96, and he was inducted into the school's athletics hall of fame in 2014.

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