Humphrey to savor Hall of Fame day with ‘wingman’
ATLANTA (AP) — Claude Humphrey wishes he could have made the Pro Football Hall of Fame “a long time ago where I could have actually enjoyed it more.”
Even so, there’s a bonus for Humphrey, the former standout defensive end for the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles. Now that he’s 70, it’s the perfect time for Humphrey’s 12-year-old grandson to savor the honor with him.
Humphrey’s daughter, Cheyenne Humphrey-Robinson, will make the introductory speech at the ceremony. Sitting in the audience will be her son, Archie Robinson Jr.
“I couldn’t go without my wingman,” Humphrey said.
“It’s a legacy for my only grandson. He gets a chance to learn a little something about his granddad. It’s something I don’t have to tell him. Other people can tell him. He won’t think I’m telling him a lie.”
The young Robinson will learn Humphrey was one of the game’s most feared pass rushers during a career that began in 1968 and spanned three decades, including the 1979-81 seasons in Philadelphia.
Humphrey is credited with 94 1/2 sacks for a loss of 757 yards for the Falcons from 1968-78. Each total is a team record, but because sacks weren’t officially recorded until 1982, Humphrey is convinced the numbers should be higher.
“Before they started keeping records of sacks, man, I was getting sacks left and right,” he said. “That statistic they have has got to be wrong. ... The thing about me, I didn’t care so much about getting the sack. A sack was just a tackle back then. Tackling the quarterback or tackling the ballcarrier on a running play was all the same.”
Humphrey is only the second player drafted by the Falcons to make the Hall, following Deion Sanders.
“Having Claude in is great because he represents the old guys,” said longtime Falcons linebacker Greg Brezina, who was a rookie with Humphrey in 1968.
“He was a great athlete. One of the best things about him was his winning attitude. He was a team player and, of course, he’s probably one of the best defensive ends that there was out there. It’s just a shame he played so long with a team that didn’t win much. He didn’t get the recognition.”
By the Falcons’ count, Humphrey set a career high with 15 sacks in 1976. STATS doesn’t list his sacks because the records are incomplete.
That’s OK with Humphrey, who wants to be remembered as more than a sacks specialist.
“The thing about my career is I just didn’t concentrate on sacking the quarterback,” Humphrey said. “I concentrated on being the total football player. Like batting the balls. Now it’s considered a ‘hurry,’ but back then it was just a batted ball. I would always be in competition with the defensive backs to see if I could get as many batted balls as they got.”
Falcons coach Mike Smith remembers Humphrey as “an all-around defensive end who could single-handedly wreck the game.”
“I remember Claude really before they had pass-rush specialists and all that,” Smith said, adding Humphrey posted two five-sack games with Atlanta.
“It speaks volumes of what kind of player he is,” Smith said.
Humphrey temporarily retired after four games in 1978 — missing his only chance at the playoffs with Atlanta. He returned with the Eagles and finally reached the Super Bowl in the 1980 season, when he had 14 1/2 sacks.
The Eagles lost to the Raiders in Super Bowl XV, but at least Humphrey had his long-awaited chance to play in the biggest game after so many losing seasons in Atlanta.
“It was the most exciting thing that could have ever happened to me,” he said. “I went to Philadelphia to try to get on a winning team and experience what I experienced in college at Tennessee State. We were national champions two years in a row.
“In Atlanta, I never got used to losing. I just never got used to it. It made me play harder. I used to say to myself, well if we lose the game, the guy who lined up in front of me won’t have anything to be excited about. When he looks at the film, he’s not going to like what he sees of himself. I’m going to go out there and try to wear him down. That was the only thing that kept me motivated.”
Now, after his long wait, Humphrey and his wingman are headed to Canton.
“I’m not glad that it took so long,” he said, “but I’m glad I got in when I can smell the flowers.”