One of the forgotten greats of the game, Hugh McElhenny scored a TD the first time he carried the ball after joining the 49ers in 1952, as the franchise’s #1 draft pick. He’d go on to become a member of the ‘Million Dollar Backfield’ for the franchise, and after 10 seasons in the league, had already cemented himself in NFL lore as one of the top 5 NFL rushers of all-time. An explosive halfback, McElhenny was feared not only as a rusher, but as a pass receiver and kick returner as well. In his rookie year, he’d average an incredible 7.0 yards a pop on 98 carries, carried by a career long 89 yard romp for a TD. Moonlighting as a punt returner, he also cashed in on a 94 yard return for a TD. At the time there was no Rookie of the Year Honors in the NFL, however he was recognized by his peers as the best overall rookie in the league. His best year came in 1956, when he carried the ball 185 times for 916 yards and 8 TDs- recording 1,109 yards from scrimmage.
In 1961, Hugh joined the Minnesota Vikings as an expansion selection. He’d spend two seasons there, but not before recording his final Pro Bowl effort in 1961. Age and injury began to take their toll on Hugh after that, and while he didn’t see time as a full-time starter, he’d play for the Vikings in 1962, Packers/Giants in 1963 and Lions in 1964 before retiring.
Hugh was a prolific runner in college. Transferring from Compton JC to Washington- he’d rush for over 1,000 yards in 1950, and set school marks with 296 yards rushing in a single game. He’d earn All-America Honors at fullback, but saw action on special teams as a kicker, punt returner and kick returner. Over 3 years for the Huskies, McElhenny logged 2,499 yards rushing, 122 yards passing and 2,621 yards total offense.
McElhenny after retirement, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970, the College Football Hall of Fame, and had his number retired by the San Fransisco 49ers and is a member of the team’s Hall of Fame. In addition, he was a 6 time pro bowler, 5 time First team All Pro, and was named a member of the 1950’s All Decade Team. McElhenny dabbled in broadcasting working for the ‘9ers working preseason games for a few years there and was involved with a push to get an expansion team awarded to Seattle.
Hugh is a diamond in the rough frequently overlooked by fans for his autograph because he played in a bygone era when teams played 12-14 game seasons. This reflects on his statistics, and while not gaudy by current standards, they were nonetheless impressive based on their time and era. He currently remains easily obtainable TTM and signs for a very modest fee.
UPDATE 6/23/22- Hugh McElhenny stopped signing within the year that I got his autograph. He passed away June 17th at the age of 92 due to natural causes.
Celebrating the game, the players, the cards, and the autographs for over 25 years.