Martin Charles Qualtieri, 71, of Bustleton, a retired SEPTA mechanic and former football star at Northeast Catholic High School, died of cancer Monday at Vitas Hospice.

Mr. Qualtieri rushed for two scores to help his school defeat La Salle College High School, 34-12, for the Catholic League title in November 1956. The next month, Northeast Catholic won the city title when the team defeated Lincoln High School, 12-0.

Mr. Qualtieri was chosen most valuable player in the Catholic League and won the Maxwell Award, given to outstanding high school football players. He also played on the Northeast Catholic baseball team that won the 1956 city championship.

In the 1950s, Philadelphians treated city championship football like the Super Bowl, said his daughter, Christine. Years after his winning season, people in Philadelphia remembered his name, said a niece, Dorothy Mansfield Byrne.

Mr. Qualtieri grew up in Hunting Park. The youngest of five children, he was orphaned at an early age and raised by an older sister.

After graduating from high school in 1958, he attended the University of Alabama on a football scholarship. For one season, he played for coach Paul "Bear" Bryant before returning home. Byrne said her uncle was street-smart but struggled in school.

Mr. Qualtieri worked in construction and played for Magnolia-Bridesburg, a semipro football team, coached by Eagles great Steve Van Buren.

Drafted into the Army in 1961, Mr. Qualtieri served in an infantry division in Germany.

After his discharge, he returned to construction work and married a girl from the neighborhood, Mary Maher, in 1968. They raised two children as well as her niece Dorothy and nephew Edward Mansfield.

In 1969, he joined SEPTA and for the next 32 years helped maintain subway and trolley lines. He retired in 2001.

Mr. Qualtieri's nickname in high school was "Joker," apparently owing to an easy smile and infectious laugh, his daughter said. He found joy in small things, she said, such as helping his wife prepare Sunday meals of sausage and meatballs for their extended family. He also enjoyed fishing and listening to Frank Sinatra.

In 2005, Mr. Qualtieri was inducted into the Philadelphia chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. The week before he died, he and his son, Charles, watched the Eagles beat the New York Giants.

In addition to his wife, son, daughter, niece and nephew, Mr. Qualtieri is survived by three grandchildren.

Friends may call from 6 to 8 p.m. tomorrow at Galzerano Funeral Home, 9304 Old Bustleton Ave., and from 9 to 9:45 a.m. Monday at Christ the King Church, 3252 Chesterfield Rd, where a Funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Burial will be in Resurrection Cemetery.

Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.