Hugh McElhenny, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who used his speed and elusiveness to gain fame as a halfback in the 1950s, died June 17 at age 93, the Hall of Fame announced Thursday.
McElhenny died of natural causes at his Nevada home, the Hall of Fame said.
Known for his long strides and high-knee propulsion, McElhenny rushed for 5,281 yards and 38 touchdowns during a 13-year career that included saves with the Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants and New York Lions. Detroit. But it was his nine-year run with the San Francisco 49ers that propelled “Hurryin’ Hugh” to football stardom.
Using a traditional T formation, the 49ers used the famed “Million Dollar Backfield,” which included fullback Joe Perry, quarterback YA Tittle and halfback John Henry Johnson, along with McElhenny, a pick at six Pro Bowl replays that had a career-high 916 yards and eight rushing touchdowns in 1956.
“Hugh McElhenny was a threat in all phases of the game offensively – rushing, receiving passes and as a kick and punt returner,” said Jim Porter, chairman of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. . “His versatile talent – evident to professional football scouts when Hugh was still a teenager – will forever be celebrated and preserved in Canton.”
McElhenny played in the National Football League for 13 years – 1952-60 San Francisco 49ers, 1961-62 Minnesota Vikings and 1964 Detroit Lions.
– Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) June 23, 2022
McElhenny’s unique running style stood out at a time when most running backs used more deliberate and smashing approaches.
Selected No. 9 overall in the 1952 NFL Draft by the Washington 49ers, McElhenny burst onto the pro scene, turning his first scrimmage play into a 40-yard touchdown run. McElhenny, also known as “The King,” quickly became a prime target for Tittle out of the backfield, using his 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame to force his way through off-screen defenses.
McElhenny had 37 catches for 458 yards and two touchdowns in 1957, and he finished his career with 264 receptions for 3,247 yards and 20 scores.
“There’s no question he could do anything,” former 49ers teammate Billy Wilson told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2004. “He could change direction in no time. He had a great ability to cuts where the other fullbacks were just slashers.”
McElhenny, a Los Angeles native, was a five-time First-Team All-Pro selection and was named to the NFL 1950s All-Decade Team. He was a first-team All-American in 1951 with the Huskies, and his number 39 is retired by the 49ers.
Retiring after the 1964 season, McElhenny was one of only three players to have amassed more than 11,000 all-purpose yards (11,375). He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970 and he is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
On his consecration day in Canton, a humble and emotional McElhenny opened up recognizing his teammates over the years, as well as his opponents.
“I want to pay tribute to the athletes I played with for their second efforts that made my races successful,” McElhenny said, “and to my opponents for all the mistakes they made to make me look good. .”
McElhenny played in just two NFL playoff games — one for the 49ers in 1957 and one for the Giants in 1963 — rushing for 101 yards on 21 carries. He also caught eight passes for 116 yards and a touchdown.