Sports · June 24, 2022

Hugh McElhenny, the elusive Hall of Fame Halfback, has died at 93

Hugh McElhenny, a Hall of Fame halfback known as the King for his electrifying prowess in 1950s football, first with the University of Washington and then with the San Francisco 49ers, died on June 17 at his home. in Henderson, Nev. hey what 93

His daughter Karen Lynn McElhenny confirmed the death Thursday but did not specify a cause. The Pro Football Hall of Fame also announced the death on Thursday.

McElhenny was a dazzling figure on the pitch, writhing and twisting as he evaded the frustrated defenders on his twisting adventures to the end zone.

“Hugh McElhenny was one of the best open-field runners you’ve ever seen,” teammate Joe Perry, the 49ers Hall of Fame full-back, once said.

“I was better off running in the middle, and Hugh was a great outside runner who zigzagged all over the place,” said Perry, one of the first black stars in professional football, from Andy Piascik in “Gridiron Gauntlet” (2009), an oral history of racial pioneers. of the game. “He Sometimes he zigzagged so much that the same guy missed him twice in the same run.”

McElhenny was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1981. He was also named to the NFL’s all-decade team for the 1950s.

At 6 foot-1 and around 200 pounds, he set a series of running records for the Washington Huskies, of the Pacific Coast Conference. As a young man he ran 296 yards and scored five touchdowns in a win over Washington State. As a senior, in 1951, he ran 100 yards back against Southern California. He was an All-American for a team that only won three games that season.

According to him, he was well paid for his collegiate endeavors. In an interview with The Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2004, he said that while playing for Washington he had regularly received cash payments and other improper perks from alumni and team enhancers totaling nearly $ 10,000 per year (about $ 115,000 in today’s money).

“I know it was illegal for me to receive cash and I was getting cash every month,” he said. “I know it was illegal to get clothes and I was always getting clothes from stores. I got a check every month and it was never signed by the same person, so we never knew who it came from. They invested in me every year. I was a movie star up there. “

The 49ers picked McElhenny as their first-round pick and signed him a $ 7,000 contract, which meant he was getting a pay cut to play professional football.

McElhenny said he got his nickname, the King, from 49er quarterback Frankie Albert after he punted back for a 94-yard touchdown against the Chicago Bears in his fourth-per-game.

“Albert gave me the game ball and said, ‘You are the king now,'” he recalled in Joseph Hession’s book “Forty Niners: Looking Back” (1985). (The College Football Hall of Fame compared him to another celebrity known as the King, saying McElhenny was “to professional football in the 1950s and early 1960s what Elvis Presley was to rock and roll. “)

McElhenny was NFL rookie of the year in 1952, averaging seven yards per load. Two years later, when he averaged eight yards per run, Albert’s successor as quarterback, YA Tittle, and three others – McElhenny and John Henry Johnson as halfback and Perry as fullback – were collectively nicknamed Million Dollar Backfield for their power. offensive. All four were eventually elected to the Hall of Fame.

McElhenny played in six Pro Bowls, was a first-team All-Pro twice, and amassed 11,375 total yards – running, taking passes and returning punt, kickoffs and fumbles – in his 13 years in the NFL: nine with the 49ers, two with the Minnesota Vikings, the 1963 season with the Giants and the last year with the Detroit Lions.

Hugh Edward McElhenny Jr. was born on July 31, 1928 in Los Angeles to Hugh and Pearl McElhenny. He was a football and hurdling star in high school, then played a season at Compton Junior College in the Los Angeles area.

He became a football celebrity in Washington, even though the Huskies never made it to a bowls game in his three years there. The payments he received were recognized as part of a broad scandal that led the Pacific Coast Conference to penalize Washington in 1956, along with the University of Southern California, UCLA, and the University of California, Berkeley, for illegal payments. passed to athletes by supporters.

After his stint with the 49ers and his stint with the Vikings, McElhenny was reunited with Tittle, who had been traded to the Giants by the 49ers in 1961. Tittle took the Giants to an NFL championship game for the third consecutive time in 1963 – a Loss to the Chicago Bears, but McElhenny, recovering from knee surgery, only gained 175 yards that year and was later released.

He was later part of an investment group that made an unsuccessful offer to get an NFL expansion franchise for Seattle, the team that began playing as the Seahawks in 1976.

In addition to his daughter Karen, McElhenny leaves another daughter, Susan Ann Hemenway; a sister, Beverly Palmer; four grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. His wife, Peggy McElhenny, died in 2019.

In the spring of 1965, Frank Gifford, McElhenny’s collegiate rival when he played for USC and later his Giants teammate, threw a retirement party for him and recounted footage of McElhenny’s spectacular outings, including perhaps his most famous: the 100-yard punt return to Washington against USC

McElhenny had ignored his coach’s pleas to let the ball go into the end zone for a touchback, giving Washington the ball at the 20-yard line.

“Our coach, Howie Odell, ran to the sidelines yelling, ‘Let him go, let him go!'” He told the Seattle Times. “Suddenly he stopped screaming. It was a stupid game of me, but it worked. “

McElhenny once said that his running style was not something he had been taught. “He’s just a gift from God,” he said. “I did things by instinct.”

Maia Coleman contributed to the report.