It's a special weekend for former Falcons DE and Ring of Honor member Claude Humphrey as he gets inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame
It’s Enshrinement Day for the Atlanta Falcons' all-time sack leader, Claude Humphrey, who enters the Pro Football Hall of Fame, following an illustrious 13-year career.
The Falcons selected the Tennessee State star in the first round (third overall) of the 1968 NFL Draft; he then went on to play 10 seasons with the club (1968-74, 76-78), before ending his career in Philadelphia, playing three years for the Eagles.
While building his prolific NFL resume with the Falcons, Humphrey put up what can now be described as Pro Football Hall of Fame-worthy numbers, including:
- NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year - 1968
- 127 career games in a Falcons uniform
- 757 sack yards for loss (franchise record)
- 94.5 QB sacks (franchise record)
- 11 Fumble recoveries, including one TD
- 2 career interceptions
- 2 career safeties (tied for franchise record)
The day Humphrey received the PFHOF call, he was thinking that he missed the cut.
“I was in the hotel in New York, with my daughter Claudia,” Humphrey said. “We had waited, after they told us that the phone call was going to come about 1 p.m., but we waited until about 4 p.m. and no phone call came, so I looked over at Claudia and I told her, ‘Claudia, call everybody and tell them that we didn’t make it,' and just about that time, the phone rang and they said ‘You made it, you’re in; you’re a Hall-of-Famer’ and I almost dropped the phone and passed out.”
The wide range of emotions Humphrey experienced stem from a tight-knit family and his passion for the game of football.
“I know I’m going to be excited,” Humphrey said about Saturday night's induction. “It’s going to be a certain degree of excitement, but it’s going to be kind of bittersweet too, because my biggest fan, my wife, Sandra, she passed away last year and this was the one thing she wanted for me so badly. She worked tirelessly, all the time, every year that I was eligible for the Hall of Fame and was a finalist; my wife got out and called people and just did everything she thought she could to help me make it in. She used to get mad at me, because she said I didn’t get excited like she did for it and she’d get mad at me and when I didn’t make it, we’d sit down and console each other and actually cry together. This is going to be hard, being up there. I know she’s looking down on me and I know that the only reason probably that I made it this time is because she was up there next to our Savior and talking to Him and campaigning for me; so, it’s going to be bittersweet.”
Humphrey enters the PFHOF with the rest of the 2014 Class, receiving the honor after four previously-eligible years (2003, 2005, 2006, 2009); the former Lester High School star offered another reason why he anticipates tonight being filled with emotions.
“I love football,” Humphrey said. “I’ve always loved it. I loved it from the very beginning, even when I was in high school and getting beat up, just learning how to play the game, I love football. As funny as it may seem, I would’ve paid the Falcons to let me play on Sunday and I would have bought my own uniform, helmet, cleats and everything; that’s how much I loved the game. You hear people say that, but I mean it. I’m saying it from the bottom of my heart; I loved playing the game of football.”
As for the Saturday night induction ceremony, Humphrey has chosen his daughter Cheyenne Humphrey-Robinson to present him for enshrinement, becoming just the third daughter ever to serve as a presenter. Along with Cheyenne, Humphrey’s other two children, daughters Claudia and Cherokee, will be cheering their father on, during his very special night.
Following Cheyenne's introduction, Humphrey previewed some of what he’ll say during tonight's speech.
“A lot of people helped me along the way,” Humphrey said. “Starting from Lester High School and going all the way through to the NFL, a lot of people helped me and I can’t mention all the people that have helped me, but it’s been a lot of people and I’m going to try to get as many as I can in the ten minutes that are allotted to me.”
Perhaps more surprising than receiving the "You made it; you're a Hall of Famer" phone call, Humphrey admits that he wasn’t expecting such great NFL success, at least early on in his career.
Former Falcons defensive end and current Ring of Honor member Claude Humphrey was named a Senior Committee selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame
“I played against Forrest Gregg in the College All-Star Game and Forrest Greg completely shut me down,” Humphrey said. "I wasn’t sure at that point; it was back to the drawing board to work a little bit harder, coming into training camp. I was determined that during the regular season, those guys weren’t going to handle me like Forrest Gregg did. I have to give him credit, because he made me work harder; he showed me that I wasn’t as good as I thought I was in my mind.”
When the success started to come his way, Humphrey said it was due to having great coaching, great teammates and a combination of physical skills and moves.
“If a guy has just one move or one technique, then he’s not going to be a very good player in the NFL, because it doesn’t take those guys long to figure out what you’re doing and how to block it,” Humphrey said. "So, as a consequence, at my height and weight, at 6’5, my first year, I was 235 pounds and I wasn’t going to get much done if they could figure out what I was doing most of the time. I tried to show them a lot of different stuff and I think that’s what helped me more than anything is variety. I had to have other things. I had a quick inside move and an upfield and back-under move; I had more than just a head-slap move.”
Humphrey perfected such moves thanks to great coaching and an endless amount of film study.
“When I was a player, I bought my own film projector, so I could take film home with me and study the people I was playing against,” Humphrey said. "I became very aware of what my opponents were going to do. I would constantly watch and run the film back as many times as I wanted to for a particular play, just to watch a guy’s technique, his footwork, where his hands were, watch how he lined up, all that stuff was part of the game.”
All that studying paid off, to the tune of 94.5 QB sacks in a Falcons uniform. Humphrey shared the emotions he experienced, following each and every QB takedown.
“It’s like a shot of adrenaline,” Humphrey said. “It’s hard work getting to the quarterback; people take that for granted, but they really shouldn’t, because that’s hard work. The guy in front of you has practiced all week to keep you away from their QB, so it’s you and him and when you can beat him and get by and get the QB, it’s a great feeling. While I was playing, I got double-teamed and then sometimes even triple-teamed, so to end up getting to the QB, after working my way through a back, or a tight end chipping on me, blocking down on me, and working against that tackle, to get to the QB was outstanding; it was a great feeling.”
While sacking a QB was a great feeling for Humphrey, it likely will pale in comparison to hearing his daughter’s speech, donning the much-deserved gold jacket and then providing a speech, honoring his beautiful wife and those who helped make his dream of entering the Pro Football Hall of Fame become reality.