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.
Dave McCloughan was a member of Colorado’s National Championship team in 1990. Over his 4 years for the Buffs, Dave had 129 tackles, intercepted 8 passes for 91 yards, and returned 34 punts for 559 yards and 2 TDs. His 15.9 yards per punt return his senior season led the nation.
McCloughan played 4 seasons in the NFL from 1991 to 1994. A 3rd round pick of the Indianapolis Colts in 1991, he had 10 combined tackles for the franchise his rookie season. He’d join the Packers in 92, and then Seattle for 1993 and 1994 before retiring.
In 1996, Dave joined the Raiders as a scout and served with the team from 1996-2004. He joined the 49ers and was dismissed from his position as the director of pro scouting in 2010. Dave returned to the Raiders in 2011 and served with the franchise through 2019.
Ja’Quan Gardner played runningback for Humboldt State University from 2014 to 2017. While playing for the Lumberjacks he compiled some truly impressive numbers. During his Sophomore run, Gardner had 2266 rushing yards on 337 carries and 25 TDs. He finished his career for the Jacks with 880 carries, 5,495 yards, and 72 TDs, Ja’Quan was also a talented receiver out of the backfield managing 81 career receptions for 767 yards and 4 TDs.
Gardner, despite his numbers did not receive a call to attend the NFL combine or get drafted in 2018. A sparkplug- at 5’6″- teams probably shied from his size and small school stature. He received a tryout call for the San Fransisco 49ers- but after working out, didn’t hear back from them. Still Ja’Quan stayed in playing shape and waited for his chance.
Three months later he received the call from the 49ers, but he thought that his agent was joking with him. The 49ers though were aching at runningback with Matt Brieda, Jerick McKinnon, and Joe Williams all being bit by the injury bug entering the team’s final preseason contest. More of an insurance policy for the team than anything else, Gardner spent all of 3 days on the roster before being waived.
Ja’Quan was allocated to the San Diego Fleet of the AAF in 2019. Gardner came recommended by a Chargers scout to head coach Mike Martz, so despite not really knowing who he was, the coaching staff decided to take a stab at him. Runningbacks in Mike Martz’s systems tend to be do-it-all backs- and Gardner took the lead role.
During his debut against the San Antonio Commanders, Gardner rushed 8 times for 55 yards, but the Fleet were thankfully more interested in passing the ball- than rushing the ball. Ja’Quan was fast once he hit the hole. His size and gameplay speed were quite deceptive.
“He can change direction and he has good hands. He’s very patient and if the hole’s there — boom, he’s gone.”
– DAVE BOLLIER SAN DIEGO FLEET
Ja’Quan came back the next weekend and ran all over the Atlanta Legends. He’d carry the load for the Fleet rushing for 104 yards and on 15 carries. His 2 rushing TDs were both scored in the 4th quarter and were the first of the season on the ground for the franchise. Gardner was also the second player in the history of the league to record a 100 yard effort- only behind Zac Stacy who had beaten him to the punch only by a few hours.
In Week 3, Gardner powered the Fleet to a dominating victory over their rival San Antonio Commanders in San Diego, 31-11. During the 3rd quarter, Ja’Quan took a hand-off up the middle and dashed a record 83 yards to pay dirt. He also finished with 122 yards on 12 carries, which also stood as a league record- and he became the first player in league history to rush for 100 yards in back to back games.
“His run reads are impeccable. He sees things so well.” – MIKE MARTZ HEAD COACH
Teams began to gameplan against Gardner, and with injuries slowly taking their toll, he didn’t see the same measure of success the rest of the season. Still Ja’Quan finished 8th in the league in rushing with 311 yards in 7 games. Gardner wanted to get a shot with another NFL team, so he needed to rehab a shoulder injury. Shortly before Week 8, he’d be placed on IR. -Soon thereafter the league folded.
I love me some runningbacks and Gardner, despite gashing my team for 122 yards, was one of my favorites. I have been collaborating with Mark from Mark’s Signing Bonus. I had seen the address for Gardner after internet snooping only a day or two before he messaged me to tell me that he had luck with Ja’Quan. I excitedly put together the Topps Now cards and his base and sent them out. He not only responded- Gardner wrote a touching note thanking me for being a fan and supporting him.
I thought Gardner would make a nice fit for the XFL- perhaps the Houston Roughnecks where they went full Run N Shoot, but alas the Seattle Dragons nabbed him, Kenneth Farrow, AND Trey Williams. Ja’Quan in 5 games finished with 35 carries for 127 yards and a 13 yard long before the league shut down due to COVID concerns after the 5th game.
Ja’Quan wrote me another nice note thanking me for being a fan and writing him again. I hope he returns to the XFL again and keeps chasing his football dreams.
Celebrating the game, the players, the cards, and the autographs for over 25 years.