Falcons Sack Leader Elected To Hall Of Fame
A few days ago, former Atlanta Falcons DL Claude Humphrey was named as a member of the 2014 Hall of Fame Class. He, along with CB Deion Sanders, is now one of two Hall of Famers originally drafted by the Falcons.
This is quite a a big deal for Atlanta because the team has been mediocre at best through the course of its history. With the exception of the "Grits Blitz" bunch, the team's magical 1980 season and the 1991 and 1998 playoff runs, Falcons teams have by and large stunk up the field. Atlanta then became more relevant once the team drafted QB Michael Vick, then again when it chose Matt Ryan to replace him under center. The Falcons have remained the talk of the NFL ever since as perennial playoff contenders.
Let’s be honest though. Aside from Sanders, who everyone recognizes as a Falcon great, who else on any of those Atlanta teams are worthy of a Hall of Fame nod? That is where it gets difficult.
Some want OL Chris Hinton to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Others may put QB Steve Bartkowski, RBs William Andrews and Gerald Riggs, LB Jessie Tuggle or WR Andre Rison on their list. And don't forget about TE Tony Gonzalez, who made quite a name for himself as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs before finishing his career with the Falcons.
I am glad that Humphrey is finally in the Hall of Fame because now we can say the Falcons have an inductee other than Sanders. It also shows that Atlanta has more storied players than advertised. As a matter of fact, we may see people lobby for more and more Falcons greats to be enshrined into the Hall of Fame in the coming years. David Choate of the Falcoholic predicts the Hall of Fame “may even prompt a second look at players like [Mike] Kenn, [Tommy] Nobis and [Jeff] Van Note”.
From a local standpoint, Humphrey is worthy of gaining Hall of Fame status. In his 10 seasons with the Falcons (1968-74, 1976-1978), he went to the Pro Bowl six times, was named to the All-Pro team five times and won the 1968 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. Humphrey also helped the Falcons get into the playoffs for the first time in 1978 as a part of the famed “Grits Blitz” defense that held teams to just 9.2 points per game while allowing 129 points (both NFL records). In an era where the Falcons where trying to grow as a team, Humphrey stood out and made them relevant in the 1970s.
He is also a Hall of Famer because he was a dominant force in the league. In 175 career games (split between the Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles), Humphrey unofficially amassed 126.5 sacks. That would tie Derrick Thomas’ career sack total and launch him into the Top 40 in career sacks. And if you divide Humphrey’s sack total by his total seasons in the league, he would have averaged about 10 sacks per year. Now that is impressive, especially considering that the NFL was dominated by running backs and legendary defenses from the 1960s well into the 1980s.
However, I think the most convincing reason why Humphrey deserves to be in the Hall of Fame is not based on stats alone. I consider him to be one of the precursors of what a prototypical, dominant DE should look like. Humphrey was listed at 6-4 and weighed around 252 pounds during his playing days. Today, teams usually draft big, athletic defensive linemen that can overpower and outrun opposing offensive linemen while using their height to bat down passes.
I think teams should look back and thank players like Humphrey for providing the blueprint for strong play on the defensive line.