Hugh McKellenny, NFL Hall of Fame, has died at the age of 93

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Hugh McElheny, a Hall of Fame throwback and one of the most elusive and sexy NFL contestants of the 1950s, died on June 17 at his home near Las Vegas. He was 93 years old.

The Professional Football Hall of Fame announced his death in a statement but provided more details.

As an all-American collegiate at the University of Washington and for more than a decade in the National Football League, Mr. McElhenney has a reputation as one of the most dynamic and charismatic players of his generation. He was skilled as a kick man, receiver and kicker and was the NFL Player of the Year in 1952 and was the first pro team twice.

Drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 1952, Mr. McElhenny led the NFL in yards per carry (7.0) in his rookie season, and had the league’s longest run of scrimmage (89 yards) and longest kickback (94 yards). He scored 10 touchdown points: six on the lunge, three on pass receptions and one on kick back. After scoring five touchdowns in one game against the Chicago Bears in his freshman year, Mr. McElhenney earned a title that stuck with him throughout his career: The King.

Lou Spadia, the team’s general manager at the time, said, “When Hugh joined the 49ers in 1952, it was doubtful that our franchise would last. McElhenny removed all doubts. That’s why we call it our franchise saver.”

In San Francisco, Mr. McElhenney was considered the brightest star on the 49ers’ “Million Dollar Backfield” squad, which included quarterback YA Tittle, linebacker Joe Perry and bruised running back John Henry Johnson, all of whom later entered the Pro Football Hall of fame.

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With good movie star looks, Mr. McElhenny was 6 feet 1 tall, weighed about 200 pounds and played most of his career without a face mask. In a game in 1952, he got a pass from Tettle near midfield as a defender took off his helmet, but McElhenney kept running bareheaded down the field for a 40-yard gain.

His teammate Perry called him the best wrecking field runner he’s ever seen. Mr. McElhenney had a long stride, high knee motion and could change directions with a rabbit-like agility. His running style is similar to that of later NFL greats Gail Sayers and Barry Sanders.

Mr. McElhenny once said, “My attitude in carrying the ball was fear.” “Not for fear of getting hurt, but for fear of falling behind and taking down and embarrassing myself and my teammates.”

He was remarkably quick for a player of his era and could blast past defenders too quickly or leave them sprawling with a tricky move.

“I’ve never been an individual who valued physical contact, so I always tried to avoid it as much as possible,” he said at the NFL Films production. “And maybe that was the reason why I ran this way.”

McElhenny had his best start to the 1954 season, leading the league in rushing 515 yards in the 49ers’ first six games, averaging 8 yards per carry. But he separated his shoulder and missed the rest of the season. He had his career best 916 yards on the ground in 1956. (NFL seasons consisted of 12 games at the time.)

In 1961, the Minnesota Vikings chose Mr. McElhenny in the expansion draft, and he showed flashes of his old personality. He earned 570 yards off the ground, earned 37 passes, gambled 81 yards back for a touchdown and was selected to the Pro Bowl.

Traded to the New York Giants in 1963, he was reunited with Teitel, the old quarterback, and played in the Giants’ 14-10 loss to the Chicago Bears in an NFL Championship game. His last season with the Detroit Lions came in 1964.

When he retired, Mr. McElhenny’s 11,375 multi-purpose yards — from running, passing, receiving and kicking back — was third in NFL history. He was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1970 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1981. He retired 49 players with his No. 39 jersey in 1971.

Hugh Edward McElhenney, Jr. was born on December 31, 1928 in Los Angeles. His father was a vending machine distributor, and his mother was a homemaker.

As a Los Angeles high school athlete in the 1940s, he set national records in the high hurdles and state records in the low hurdles and long jump. He can run a 100-yard dash in 9.6 seconds. He briefly attended the University of Southern California before becoming a prominent football player at Compton Junior College in Los Angeles.

Next, Mr. McElhenny played for three years at the University of Washington, where he set a team record by rushing 1,107 yards in 1950—a total that wasn’t surpassed until 1978. He gained 296 yards on the ground against Washington State as a rookie. Husky record in the single game.

In his first season, he replayed a 100-yard gamble against Southern California, posing for another future Hall of Fame, Frank Gifford, in the play. Although Mr. McElhenny’s Washington team won only three games in 1951, it was an all-American consensus.

In 2004, Mr. McElhenny admitted that he accepted under-the-table payments from soccer supporters in Washington.

He told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2004, “I know it’s illegal to take cash, and every month I get cash. I know it’s illegal to receive clothes, and I get clothes all the time from stores.”

“I was getting a check every month, and the same person never signed it, so we didn’t really know who came in. They invested in me every year.”

After his playing career, Mr. McElhenny was an announcer for the 49ers and was part of a failed effort to bring the NFL franchise to Seattle. (He was not part of the Seattle Seahawks, which entered the NFL in 1976.) He later became an executive with the Washington Transit Authority in Seattle.

His ex-wife Peggy Auguston passed away at the age of 70 in 2019. Among the survivors are two daughters; sister; Four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Mr. McElhenney, who said his highest salary as a player was $25,000, said modern-day football has become too complicated for his tastes.

“It’s very complicated,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2020. “What you can and can’t do when you’re dealing with a guy – sometimes I get the feeling that you’re not supposed to touch someone. And there are so many delays [for replays]. “The game was a lot simpler in my time – but I think it was just as fun.”

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