The Hall of Fame said McElhenney died of natural causes at his home in Nevada.
McElhenny is best known for his long strides and knee pushes for 5,281 yards and 38 touchdowns in a 13-year career that has included stops with the Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants and Detroit Lions. But it was his nine-year career with the San Francisco 49ers that catapulted Hurin Hugh to soccer stardom.
Using a traditional T formation, the 49ers used the famous “Million Dollar Backfield”, which featured linebackers Joe Perry, linebackers YA Tittle and linebackers John Henry Johnson, along with McElhenny, a six-time Pro Bowl pick who had the highest level in his life. Professional 916 yards and eight touchdowns in 1956.
“Hugh Mcelheny was a threat throughout the game offensively – rushing, receiving, passing and as returning kicks and matches,” said Jim Porter, president of the Professional Football Hall of Fame. “His overall talent – which was evident to professional football scouts when Hugh was still a teenager – will be celebrated and preserved forever in Canton.”
McElhenny played in the National Football League for 13 years – the 1952-1960 San Francisco 49ers, the 1961-1962 Minnesota Vikings and the 1964 Detroit Lions.
ProFootballHOF Hall of Fame June 23, 2022
McElhenny’s unique running style emerged in an era when most sprinters used more thoughtful approaches.
The No. 9 overall pick in the 1952 NFL Draft by the 49ers outside of Washington, McElhenny broke into the professional scene, turning his first play from the melee to 40 yards. McElhenny, aka “The King,” quickly became a prime target for Tittle off the field, using his 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame to weave his way through off-screen defenses.
McElhenny had 37 catches for 458 yards and two touchdowns in 1957, and finished his career with 264 receptions for 3,247 yards and 20 points.
“The 49ers family is saddened to learn of the passing of one of the NFL’s all-time greats, Hugh McElhenney,” said Dr. John York, 49ers co-chairman, in a statement. “Growing up, my favorite team was 49 players. I remember many great players from the late fifties and sixties. When I started inviting the alum to every game, my goal was to take on ‘Million Dollar Backfield.’ “Hugh was the last of the four to join us and we remained friends. Hugh is an amazing part of the 49ers history.”
McElhenny, a native of Los Angeles, was a five-time first All-Pro team pick and was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team in the 1950s. The first American team was in 1951 with the Huskies, and the number 39 was retired by the 49ers.
Upon retirement after the 1964 season, McElhenny was one of only three players to collect more than 11,000 multi-purpose yards (11375). Inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1970, he is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
On his honoring day in Canton, the humble and passionate McElhenny opened up by acknowledging his teammates over the years, as well as his opponents.
“I want to commend the athletes I played with for their second effort that made the run a success, and for my opponents for all the mistakes they made to make me look good,” McElhenney said.
McElhenny played in only two NFL games after the season ended — one for the 49ers in 1957 and the other for the Giants in 1963 — and rushed 101 yards on 21 coaches. He also had eight passes for 116 yards and a touchdown.