McAleney To Be Enshrined
Aug. 26, 2003
Growing up in the blue-collar community of South Portland, Maine, in the 1960s, there wasn't much to do except play sports. So, Ed McAleney played just about every one he and his friends could find.
They played basketball and they played baseball. They even played hockey by damming their road with snow and flooding it into a rink.
Living in a World War II housing development, every house had three or four kids, so there was never a shortage of players. They played pick-up games of anything late into the evening until their parents dragged them in from the dark.
"My release was sports," McAleney said. "By playing sports, I was able to do whatever I wanted to do."
But it wasn't until junior high school that he found his true release - football. McAleney vented his pent-up angers and frustrations by hitting people. The rest of the game came naturally.
"I liked the aspect of hitting somebody and not getting nailed for it and not having my father kick my butt," he said. "I enjoyed the hitting part, the technique, the discipline, everything about it."
When McAleney reached high school, football became more than a release; it became his dream. His coaches told him that he had the potential to play professionally, but only if he dedicated himself to it completely.
At that time, McAleney was an All-State center for his school's basketball team. He had played basketball much longer than football, but he was only 6-4 and had no delusions of growing to 6-9.
Football also drew McAleney with the success of his high school team in his sophomore year. He recalled the thrill of playing in front of 8,000 people in the Class A state championship game on a cold day in the fall of 1968.
In South Portland, everyone knew everyone else, so McAleney received his fair share of pats on the back and free sandwiches. His fondest memory growing up was the support of his community.
"What a blast to do something you absolutely love and have people you know cheering for you," he said. "It's kind of corny, but it was like a high.
"Sophomore year in high school, I said I'd do whatever it took to play as long as I could."
After his sophomore year of high school, McAleney played football for the next 16 years, until 1985. In that time, he made many stops. He played for the University of Massachusetts from 1971 to 1975. After his graduation, he bounced from the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League to the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League, before ending his career with the Pittsburgh Maulers and then the Orlando Renegades of the now-defunct United States Football League.
Now, McAleney is making one more stop in his football career - only this one is permanent. He will be inducted into the UMass Athletics Hall of Fame this winter for his accomplishments in football and track and field.
"What a cherry on top - a crowning achievement," McAleney said of his induction. "It's humbling, when I think of all the athletes that there have been and only 61 are in (the Hall of Fame). When you're given an honor for something you love to do, it's just a bonus. I would've done it even if I didn't have an opportunity to be in the Hall of Fame. For me the culmination of all those years of playing, to be recognized, it's a great honor."
McAleney arrived at UMass in the fall of 1971 on a full scholarship for football. He was an All-American in high school, so several other schools, including the University of Minnesota, offered him scholarships. But after examining the economic feasibility and talking to the coaches, he decided on UMass.
His UMass recruiters, head coach Dick MacPherson and defensive coordinator Bob Pickett, were also Maine natives. This created an instant bond with McAleney and his parents.
"It was like leaving one home and going to another one," McAleney said of going to UMass. "It just seemed like a natural fit."
When he first arrived on campus, he was awed by the size of the University compared to his hometown. But he quickly acclimated himself, joining the Kappa Sig fraternity and becoming a regular in the weight room with the help of track team weight coach Giddian Ariel.
"Between studying, partying and working out, there wasn't a whole lot else to do," he said.
On the football field, McAleney played defensive end and defensive tackle. He enjoyed the mobility these positions provided, not keeping him stuck in the middle of the line. Using a strong sense for the ball and the occasional luck of finding himself in the right place at the right time, he became a great run-stopper.
Compared to today's defensive linemen, McAleney was a shrimp - only 245 to 250 pounds. If he played today, he believed he would be better suited for linebacker.
"At the time, he had reasonable size," Pickett said. "His greatest asset was his ability to run. He had great quickness and he was a very intelligent player. He used all those assets to the best of his ability."
Said McAleney: "God given talent, a lot of luck and a lot of determination - I think the combination of the three made me a good football player."
UMass enjoyed good success during McAleney's time. The Minutemen won the Yankee Conference in 1972 and were co-champions in 1974.
While McAleney says he remembers all his games - even a 70-8 drubbing at the hands of Boston College when he was injured in his senior year - some of the most fondly remembered games in his career came from the 1972 season.
That year, UMass beat BC, 28-7. The victory was especially sweet for McAleney because the Eagles had recruited him. After the game, Boston College head coach Bill Bowes asked him why he hadn't gone to BC. McAleney simply told the coach that he hadn't been offered a scholarship.
Later that season, the Minutemen earned an invitation to the Boardwalk Bowl, which prompted co-captain Dennis Kiernan to sing Under the Boardwalk wearing nothing except a towel wrapped around his head. UMass beat California-Davis, 35-14, for its first-ever postseason win.
McAleney captained the team in 1974, his senior season. During the first game of that campaign, however, he tore his ACL, which forced him to redshirt and miss the rest of the year.
"He handled it a lot better than a lot of other people might have," Pickett said. "He was a great leader and people followed him. People had great respect for him because of the way he played and the physical qualities he had."
McAleney returned as captain again in 1975 and earned a first team All-America honor at defensive end. He collected many other accolades throughout his career at UMass, including three selections each as first team All-Yankee Conference and All-New England.
"Now, I look back at it and I'm very happy at those," he said. "But at the time when I was playing, I was like you know this is great, they recognize what you've done, but this is what you're out there for and you kind of expect it. You've worked your tail off because you want to be the best you can be. Obviously, there are other people deserving, but there's a little luck. You're always humbled by anything you achieve because there's always somebody a little bit better than you."
McAleney also threw the discus and shot put for the outdoor track team. In 1973, he placed fourth in the Yankee Conference for the shot.
But football was always his first love. Track and field merely motivated him to train in the off-season and gave him the competition that he always thirsted for.
"He was a very intense player and the thing about it was he knew what it took to be the player he was," Pickett said. "As Dick (MacPherson) used to say, he left no regrets on the field and he played every play as if it was going to be his last."
In 1976, McAleney finally reached his dream when the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted him in the eighth round of the NFL draft.
"It was an absolute high, being able to play with Joe Greene and John Kolb," he said. "It was the culmination of my career that I got drafted and was able to go into professional football."
Another thrill for McAleney came in the 1976 preseason when he tackled Joe Namath, although he admitted, "He was pretty broken down at that point."
The NFL dream didn't last long, though. After short stints playing for Atlanta and Tampa Bay, a coach suggested that he go to the CFL and polish his skills.
"You always dream to be in the NFL, but my dream was just to play football," McAleney said. "I didn't care where, I just didn't like riding the pine.
"So I said, 'Well, what have I got to lose?' and went up there the first day and never stopped playing."
He played for the Calgary Stampeders from 1977 to 1983, collecting numerous honors, including 1981 CFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Also while he was in Canada, McAleney founded a "Kids to Kamp" charity that benefited the Alberta Crippled Children's Hospital. For each sack he recorded, he made a donation of $100 from his paycheck, which was added to by many local businesses, to help send the patients of the hospital to summer camp.
McAleney concluded his career in the USFL, where he achieved perhaps his most famous moment in the United States. Sports Illustrated had written a feature on Doug Flutie, hailing him as the USFL's savior. Inside the feature, on a centerfold, a series of pictures showed McAleney sacking Flutie with the caption, "Ed McAleney welcomes Doug Flutie into the USFL."
The centerfold was transformed into a collage by McAleney's wife, Jeanie, and now hangs in his office/trophy room.
McAleney is proud of many career accomplishments. He was inducted into the Maine State Hall of Fame in 1991. He was one of six UMass players named to the Yankee Conference All-Time 50th Anniversary Team in 1996. And now he is being inducted into the UMass Athletics Hall of Fame.
But his proudest achievements right now are his 10-year-old son, Connor, and 14-year-old daughter, Morghan. McAleney just wishes his parents were alive to see his induction.
"My parents always supported me," he said. "They traveled with me and supported my career to the day I retired. Now, I try to do same with my daughter, who's a pretty good basketball player and my son, who is a pretty good football player."