Hugh McElhenny dies; Hall of Fame running back is 93

NFL Hall of Famer Hugh McElhenny, the elusive running back of the 1950s, has died. He is 93 years old.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame said in a news release that McEllenney died of natural causes on June 17 at his home in Nevada, and son-in-law Chris Perlman confirmed the death.

McElhenny was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970, and his exciting run and versatility as a runner, catcher and returner made him one of the top players in the NFL in the 1950s. He was the league’s Rookie of the Year in 1952 (before the award was officially awarded) and was named to two All-Pro teams, six Pro Bowls and all-decade lineups in the 1950s NFL.

“Hugh McElhenney was an offensive threat at all stages of the game – rushing, receiving and kicking and kicking. His all-around talent – was a huge challenge to pro football when Hugh was a teenager. It’s obvious – will be celebrated and preserved forever in Guangzhou,” Hall of Fame President Jim Porter said in a statement.

An All-League player for Washington who set several Pacific Coast Conference records, McElhenney was selected with the ninth overall pick in the 1952 draft and made an immediate impact. Not only did he lead the happy-running NFL in yards per carry that season (7.0), but McElhenny had the longest scrimmage rush at 89 yards and the longest punt return at 94 yards. As a rookie, he had 10 touchdowns.

This is the start of nine seasons in which McElhenney has been the 49ers’ primary offensive weapon. It was only in 1954, when his shoulder that separated after six games, sidelined him, and in 1960, his final year in San Francisco, that McElhenney wasn’t a Niners focus.

He’s also a savior for the team, which is fitting because the 49ers tried to sign him out of high school when they were still in the NFL.

“When Hugh joined the 49ers in 1952,” said Luspadia, then general manager of the team, “the question was whether our team would survive. McElhenny cleared all doubts. That’s why we called He’s our franchise protector.”

Defenders will call him something else because their arms are full of air rather than the ball handler.

“My attitude with the ball is fear,” he said. “It’s not the fear of getting hurt, but the fear of being caught from behind and embarrassing myself and my teammates.”

Easily recognisable for his strides and high-knee moves, McElhenny is not only fast, but has breakdancer moves decades before breakdancing became popular.

“Prepare for a team that puts McElhenny on the roster,” said Hamppool, who coached the archrival Rams in 1952-54. “You can’t take a chance.”

Coincidentally, his longtime 49ers partner, guard Joe Perry—another Hall of Famer—played at Compton Junior College in California, and McElhenney had played before heading to Washington. Play at the academy. Together they formed one of the best backcourts in pro football in San Francisco.

But the Nines only made the playoffs with McElhenney, losing a Western Conference playoff game against Detroit in 1957. By 1961, McElhenney’s performance had declined, and he was left on the expansion draft list and selected by Minnesota. He had a solid season and went 3-11 to the Pro Bowl in their debut season with the Vikings.

Knee problems slowed him down. He played another year with Minnesota, coming off the bench with the New York Giants in 1963, where he played in his only NFL championship game, a loss to Chicago, and ended his career with Detroit in 1964.

When he retired, McElhenney was one of three players with more than 11,000 all-around yards.

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