Hall of Fame halfback Hugh McElhenny dies at 93

Hugh McElhenny, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who used his speed and intangibility to gain fame as a halfback in the 1950s, died June 17 at the age of 93, the Hall of Fame announced Thursday.

McElhenny died of natural causes at his home in Nevada, the Hall of Fame announced.

McElhenny is known for his long strides and high-knee drive. In his 13-year career, which included stints with the Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants and Detroit Lions, McElhenny rushed for 5,281 yards and 38 touchdowns. But it was his nine-year stint with the San Francisco 49ers that made “Hurryin’ Hugh” a football star.

Using a traditional T formation, the 49ers fielded the famous “Million Dollar Backfield” that featured fullback Joe Perry, quarterback YA Tittle and halfback John Henry Johnson along with McElhenny, a six-time Pro Bowl pick who had a career highlight 916 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground in 1956.

“Hugh McElhenny was a threat offensively in all phases of the game – rushing, receiving passes and returning kicks and punts,” said Jim Porter, president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “His all-round talent — evident to pro football scouts when Hugh was just a teenager — will be celebrated and forever cherished in Canton.”

McElhenny’s unique running style stood out at a time when most running backs were using more deliberate, smashmouth approaches.

McElhenny, the No. 9 overall pick in the 1952 NFL draft by the Washington 49ers, burst onto the pro scene and turned his first game from scrimmage into a 40-yard touchdown streak. McElhenny, aka “The King,” quickly became a top target for Tittle from outside the backfield, using his 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame to push his way through defenses off-screen passes tracks.

McElhenny had 37 catches for 458 yards and two touchdowns in 1957 and finished his career with 264 receptions for 3,247 yards and 20 scores.

“The 49ers family is heartbroken to learn of the passing of one of the NFL’s greats, Hugh McElhenny,” said Dr. 49ers co-chairman John York in a statement. “Growing up, the 49ers were my favorite team. I remember so many great players from the late 50’s and 60’s. When I started inviting an alum to every game, my goal was to hit the million dollar backfield. Hugh was the last of the four to join us and we remained friends. Hugh is a huge part of the 49ers’ history.”

McElhenny, a native of Los Angeles, was a five-time first-team All-Pro selection and was named to the NFL’s 1950s All-Decade Team. He was a first-team All-American with the Huskies in 1951, and his #39 was retired by the 49ers.

After 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 is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

On his day of anchoring in Canton, a humble and emotional McElhenny opened by acknowledging his teammates over the years as well as his opponents.

“I want to pay tribute to the athletes I’ve played with for their second attempts at making my runs successful,” McElhenny said, “and my opponents for all the mistakes they made to make me look good .”

McElhenny played in just two postseason NFL games — one for the 49ers in 1957 and one for the Giants in 1963 — and rushed for 21 carries for 101 yards. He also caught eight passes for 116 yards and one touchdown.

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