Hall of Famer, former 49er Hugh McElhenney dies at 93

The Associated Press

NFL Hall of Famer Hugh McElhenney, an elusive running back from the 1950s, has died. He was 93 years old.

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

Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970, McElhenny’s thrilling runs and all-round prowess as a runner, receiver and kick returner made him one of the top NFL players of the 1950s. He was the league’s Rookie of the Year in 1952 (before the award was made official) and made two All-Pro teams, six Pro Bowls, and the NFL’s 1950s All-Decade team.

“Hugh McElhenney was a threat aggressively at all stages of the game – running, getting passes, and as a kick and punt returner. His all-round talent – ​​one of the best of pro-football pro scouts,” Hall of Fame President Jim Porter said in a statement. Evident to when Hugh was still a teenager – will be celebrated and preserved forever in the canton.

An all-conference player in Washington, where he set several Pacific Coast Conference records, McElhenny was selected ninth overall in the 1952 draft and made an immediate impact. Not only did he lead the run-happy NFL in yards per carry (7.0) that season, but McElhenney had the longest run from scrimmage, 89 yards, and the longest punt return, 94 yards. He made 10 touchdowns as a rookie.

It was the start of a nine-season expansion in which McElhenny was the 49ers’ primary offensive weapon. Only in 1954, when a dislocated shoulder sidelined him after six games, and 1960, his final year in San Francisco, was McElhenney not a focal point for the Niners.

He was also a franchise savior, which was fitting as the 49ers once tried to force him out of high school when they were still in the All-American Football Conference.
“When Hugh joined the 49ers in 1952,” said team general manager Lou Spadia, “it was doubtful whether our franchise could survive. McElhenny brushed off all doubts. That’s why we call him our franchise saver.” “

Defenders used to call him something else because he got weapons filled with air instead of ball carriers.

“My attitude towards carrying the ball was fear,” he said. “Not the fear of getting hurt, but the fear of being caught from behind and taken down and embarrassing myself and my teammates.”

Easily recognized for his long stride and high knee action, McElhenny was not only fast, but had the moves of a break dancer decades before he became break dancing.

“Preparing for a team that lists McElhenny on the roster,” said Hamp Poole, who coached the hardcore Rams from 1952–54, “you just can’t take any chances.”

Incidentally, his longtime backfield partner of 49 years, fullback Joe Perry—another Hall of Famer—played at Compton Junior College in California, where McElhenney starred before moving to Washington. Together in San Francisco, they formed one of pro football’s best backfield tandems.

But the Niners made it only once postseason with McElhenney, losing a Western Conference title playoff game with Detroit in 1957. By 1961, with McElhenney wearing down a bit, he was dropped on the expanding draft list and scooped up by Minnesota. They had a solid season and made the Pro Bowl as the Vikings went 3-11 in their inaugural season.

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