Pro Football Hall of Famer Claude Humphrey,
one of the NFL’s most fearsome pass rushers during the 1970s with the Atlanta
Falcons, has died at the age of 77.

Humphrey, who also reached the Super Bowl
with the Philadelphia Eagles, died unexpectedly in Atlanta on Friday night,
according to the Hall of Fame, which was informed of his death by his daughter.
No cause was given.

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Humphrey was the No. 3 overall pick by the
Falcons out of Tennessee State in 1968 and went on to play 11 years with the
team, earning the last of six Pro Bowl appearances as a member of the famed
“Grits Blitz” defence in 1977.

He moved to the Eagles in 1979 and served
as a designated pass rusher on the 1980 team that reached the Super Bowl.

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Humphrey retired after the 1981 season
before sacks became an official stat, but he was credited with 130 sacks over
13 seasons (he missed the entire 1975 season recovering from a knee injury).

into Hall of Fame in 2014

Humphrey was inducted into the Pro Football
Hall of Fame in 2014.

“The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame
family mourns the passing of Claude Humphrey,” Hall of Fame President Jim
Porter said. “Known as a hard worker and a reliable teammate, Humphrey was
always willing to help the team out wherever needed and knew success was
achieved collectively. His humble spirit guided him on and off the field.”

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The Hall of Fame flag outside the museum in
Canton, Ohio, will be flown at half-staff in Humphrey’s honour, Porter added.

Humphrey played on losing teams during much
of his career in Atlanta, which likely contributed to the 33-year wait before
he was finally selected for the Hall of Fame.

He certainly put up hail-worthy numbers as
a dynamic edge rusher who had double-figure sacks nine times in his career.
Humphrey also had two interceptions, a fumble recovery for a touchdown and two

‘A great athlete’                                         

The NFL defensive rookie of the year in
1958, he earned first-team All-Pro honours five times.

In 1977, Humphrey was a key player on a
defence that allowed just 129 points — the NFL’s fewest ever in a 14-game
season. But the team struggled offensively and finished just 7-7, missing the

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“He was a great athlete,” said longtime
Falcons linebacker Greg Brezina, who joined the team the same year as Humphrey.
“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.”

Humphrey, who was just the second Falcons
player after Deion Sanders to be elected to the Hall of Fame, insisted that he
had even more sacks than he was given credit for.

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“Before they started keeping records of
sacks, man, I was getting sacks left and right,” he said. “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 ball carrier on a running play
was all the same.”

Humphrey temporarily retired after four
games in 1978 — missing his only chance at the playoffs with the Falcons. He
returned with the Eagles and finally reached the Super Bowl in the 1980 season
when he had 14 1/2 sacks.

The favoured Eagles lost to the Raiders
27-10, but Humphrey got his long-awaited chance to play in the biggest game
after so many losing seasons in Atlanta.