NEW YORK – Thirty-two years after playing his last NFL snap, Claude Humphrey finally got a call from Canton.
The former Eagles defensive end was one of seven former players voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. The 69-year-old Humphrey was one of two senior candidates selected. He was joined by punter Ray Guy.
Five modern-era players – wide receiver Andre Reed, linebacker Derrick Brooks, offensive tackle Walter Jones, defensive end Michael Strahan and defensive back Aeneas Williams – also were selected. Brooks and Jones made it in their first year of eligibility.
Humphrey had a much longer wait. He was a finalist three times during his 20 years of eligibility as a modern-era candidate, but didn’t get in. He also was nominated by the Hall’s senior committee in 2009, but didn’t get the necessary 80 percent selector votes.
“It’s been a long time,’’ Humphrey said Saturday. “Thirtysome odd years. I appreciated every day that I went out and played football in the National Football League. I enjoyed it. It was a great time.’’
Humphrey said he never gave up hope that he would make it to Canton.
“I always figured there was a place for me here (in the Hall of Fame),’’ he said. “It took a long time and there was a lot of disappointment, getting nominated so many times and getting to the finals and missing.
“But getting in is such a great experience. I’ll tell you what, it’s hard to explain.’’
Humphrey’s greatest sadness is that his wife Sandra, who passed away last summer, isn’t around to share in this with him.
“She was my biggest PR person,’’ he said. “I finally made it and I won’t have her with me to enjoy such a spectacular honor.
“She was my life. She was the one who rubbed me when I came in after those guys were double-teaming me. She stood by me and did the things that made the game simple for me. All I had to do was play football. She took care of everything else. It’s a sad experience for me to be going in and not have her by my side.’’
Humphrey is the first player from the Eagles’ 1980 Super Bowl team to make it to Canton. He spent the first 10 years of his career with the Atlanta Falcons before being traded to the Eagles in 1979.
The Falcons had just two winning seasons in the 10 years Humphrey spent in Atlanta. In ’78, tired of the losing, he abruptly retired at the age of 34.
After the ‘78 season, the Eagles convinced him to unretire and traded a pair of fourth-round picks for him. It turned out to be one of the best trades coach Dick Vermeil and his personnel man, Carl Peterson, ever made.
Quarterback sacks didn’t become an official NFL stat until 1982. But Humphrey was regarded as one of the best pass-rushers of his generation. In his first season with the Eagles, Humphrey had 10 sacks for an Eagles team that won 11 games. A year later, at the age of 36, he had 14 ½ sacks and helped the Eagles make it to the Super Bowl.
Humphrey played one more season in Philadelphia and then retired.
Vermeil felt Humphrey should’ve had a bust in Canton years ago.
He was on the Rams’ coaching staff for a year when Deacon Jones played there. Jones went into the Hall of Fame in 1980 in his first year of eligibility. Vermeil said Humphrey was “a bigger, stronger Deacon Jones.’’
Said Vermeil: “Claude maybe didn’t have the top-end chase speed, but he had everything else. Everything else.
“His speed, his explosiveness, his power and his temperament. He had those long arms. He had no shortcomings.’’
Humphrey didn’t take plays off. He didn’t pace himself. First play to last, he played at one speed.
“People that played against Claude prepared because they knew they were playing against somebody really special,’’ Vermeil said.
“And they knew it was going to be like that the entire game. Not just once in a while or not just on third down. It was going to be on every down. He was an every down player.’’
Former Eagles linebacker John Bunting, who played with Humphrey, said, “That guy was a vicious upfield rusher before you really heard about those guys. Deacon Jones certainly was a great upfield rusher. But Claude was a classic upfield, around-the-edge, get-to-the-quarterback, slap-the-ball out player.
“And he primarily did it from the left side, which is a little bit unusual for a guy to be that good of a pass rusher off the left side. He had that Derrick Thomas first step. That quick twitch.’’
Peterson, who would later draft Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas when he was the Chiefs’ general manager, said Humphrey had the same great edge-rushing ability as Thomas.
“He was a big, strong man,’’ Peterson said. “Once he got underneath the shoulder (of the offensive tackle), it was over. Like Derrick, he had that great ability to contort his body and drop down so low and get underneath that guy. At that point, the tackle has lost all leverage.’’
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