JEFF SAMUELS had two great passions - newspapers and sports.

His passion for newspapers went back to his childhood.

As early as age 7, he was trotting down to the corner store in his native Johnstown, Pa., to buy up the Sunday papers.

"He would spend his allowance on newspapers," said his wife, Suzanne.

"His mother didn't like it, but he just always loved newspapers."

Jeff was able to combine both passions in a more than 35-year career in newspapers, mostly in sports, including 20 years at the Daily News.

He left the Daily News in 2005 for the Miami Herald, where he was the Sunday sports editor.

Jeffrey Raymond Samuels died Sunday of cancer at the age of 56. He had lived for years in Cherry Hill, N.J.

Jeff was highly respected at the Daily News for the ideas he generated for coverage and special sections in sports and later in general news.

He shared in a number of awards for these productions.

Probably nobody gave a better description of his style than he did with a tongue-in-cheek lead-in to one of his Names In The News columns in 1994:

"Editor's Note: Jeff Samuels is on mental health leave. He says he is completely out of sarcastic, wisecracking, weaselly little comments and needs to recharge the batteries. He figures he'll catch the Sixers and Dave Hollins tonight and then he'll be fine."

Jeff saved his wisecracks for his writing - including prize-winning headlines - because around the newsroom he was always a gentleman who went quietly and efficiently about his work.

(One of his headlines topped a story about inconsiderate Veterans Stadium fans who urinated in the sinks - "Pee Brains." It won a Keystone Award of the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers Association.)

Jeff was also a man of great courage in overcoming physical problems.

When he arrived at the Daily News in 1985, he had already had a bout with bone cancer and had to struggle to get around. But after walking for a time with a cane, he got rid of the cane by swimming and other exercises.

"Jeff was the consummate professional who cared deeply about the Daily News, and he worked diligently to make the paper as engaging and spirited as possible," said Daily News Editor Michael Days.

"He was passionate each and every day about doing what was best for the Daily News and its readers. I always appreciated his candor."

"Jeff Samuels cared about presenting a story the right way," said Daily News Assistant Managing Editor Wendy Warren.

"He cared about making an impact with our journalism.

"He saw every front page and every big story as a chance to do something different - and to make readers notice our work."

Sports colleagues who worked directly with him had high praise for his professionalism.

"Jeff did such extraordinary work with a succession of special sections, and the payoff was a run of Top 10 awards from the Associated Press Sports Editors," said Assistant Sports Editor Paul Vigna.

Paul cited a special section on Muhammad Ali, published in September 2000.

"It was brilliantly executed, from the concept to the angle of the stories to the selection of the art," Paul said.

"I recall his diligence in finding the right image for every page. Everything had to be perfect. That was the kind of effort and caring he put into everything he produced."

"I thought he was an exceptionally fine editor," said sportswriter Mark Kram.

"He was always full of interesting ideas and always encouraging. I know I am better for having worked with him, and I think the Daily News is better because of his many contributions."

"Jeff always represented a quiet excellence," said sportswriter Marcus Hayes.

"Anyone who met his demanding expectations received the reward of a gentle manner and sharp, wry wit. His strength, his toughness - all of it made him a richly complete person."

Sportswriter Ed Barkowitz said, "I always thought his best work was the special section we did on Michael Jordan in 1998. When Sixers beat writer Phil Jasner asked Jordan what he thought of the section, Jordan held it up and responded, 'I'm going to show this to my kids.'

"Jeff was proud of the Jackie Robinson section from 1997. Outside his former office is an enlarged picture of the cover signed by Rachel Robinson, Jackie's wife."

He was the editor of a highly touted feature called Sportsweek, which debuted in 1995. It appeared each Thursday and was a guide to the coming week's sports events with well-crafted stories, columns, stats, photos and other features.

Jeff was born in Johnstown to Phyllis and Robert Samuels. While in high school, he worked as a stringer for the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat. After graduating, he went to the University of Pittsburgh. While in college, he worked for the school information department.

After graduation, he joined the Pittsburgh Press as a sports reporter. He later worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in the same capacity. Among his assignments, he covered the Pirates and the Steelers. He also wrote a sports column.

"He was easygoing, but he was pretty intense about his work," said his wife, Suzanne, whom he married in 1992.

His brother, Todd Samuels, said he and Jeff were very close.

"He was my older brother," Todd said. "He was my role model. We traveled together. He showed me the world. He was a great big brother."

Jeff was a cat-lover and had four of them in his Cherry Hill home. He was also a dedicated player of fantasy football and wasn't discouraged by the fact that in more than 10 years of playing, he never won.

He is survived by two stepchildren, Andrea and Brian, and one step-grandchild.

Services: 1 p.m. today at Platt Memorial Chapels, 2001 Berlin Road, Cherry Hill. Burial will be in Crescent Cemetery, in Pennsauken. *