FLOWERY BRANCH -- Falcons great Claude Humphrey, 77, who was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014, died Friday.

“The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Claude Humphrey,” Pro Football Hall of Fame president Jim Porter said in a statement. “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.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Claude’s family during this difficult time. The Hall of Fame will forever guard his legacy. The Hall of Fame flag will be flown at half-staff in Claude’s memory.”

ExploreRead more: The AJC's Steve Hummer visited and wrote about Humphrey in 2014

Humphrey played 13 seasons of professional football with the Falcons (1968-78, including the 1975 season that he missed with a knee injury) and the Philadelphia Eagles (1979-81).

“We are saddened by the passing of Claude Humphrey and send our prayers out for his family and friends in this difficult time,” said Arthur Blank, Falcons owner and chairman in a statement. “Claude made an indelible impression on so many from Memphis to the Falcons and across the NFL with his leadership and tenacious approach on the field. His Falcons legacy was cemented as a forever memory with induction into our Ring of Honor and he will be greatly missed. May he rest in peace.”

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Claude Humphrey (left) with other Falcons greats Tommy Nobis (center) and Jeff Van Note during a 2015 ceremony. ( Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Claude Humphrey (left) with other Falcons greats Tommy Nobis (center) and Jeff Van Note during a 2015 ceremony. ( Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)
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Claude Humphrey (left) with other Falcons greats Tommy Nobis (center) and Jeff Van Note during a 2015 ceremony. ( Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Humphrey was selected by the Falcons with the third overall pick in the 1968 AFL/NFL draft out of Tennessee State. He made an immediate impact with the Falcons and was named the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year.

Although it didn’t become an official NFL statistic until after he retired, Humphrey is credited with 130 career sacks.

He was a relentless pass rusher and led the his team in sacks in nine of the 13 seasons. He also had two interceptions, a fumble recovery for touchdown and two safeties during his Hall of Fame career. Humphrey earned first-team All-Pro honors five times and was selected to play in six Pro Bowls.

On the eve of Super Bowl XLVIII between Seattle and Denver, Humphrey was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Humphrey was the first long-time member from the early days of the Falcons to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio.

Here’s Humphrey’s Hall of Fame Speech

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Claude Humphrey (left) and John Zook gave the Falcons a strong pass rush in the 1970s.

Credit: Charles R. Pugh

Claude Humphrey (left) and John Zook gave the Falcons a strong pass rush in the 1970s.
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Claude Humphrey (left) and John Zook gave the Falcons a strong pass rush in the 1970s.

Credit: Charles R. Pugh

Credit: Charles R. Pugh

It was an uphill climb for Humphrey, in part because the Falcons’ history of losing during his era. He retired from the NFL in 1981 and was an unsuccessful Hall of Fame finalist in 2003, 2005 and 2006, and also fell short in 2009 as a senior candidate.

Of his first 10 seasons in Atlanta (1968-77), only two were winning ones. Overall, those Falcons went 53-84-3. He played three seasons with the Eagles and reached the Super Bowl before retiring.

ExploreMore on Falcons great Claude Humphrey

Humphrey joined Tommy McDonald (1967), Eric Dickerson (1993), Chris Doleman (1994-95) and Deion Sanders (1989-1993) as the only Falcons in the Canton, Ohio. Since, Brett Favre and Morten Andersen have been enshrined.

Humphrey was a part of the Falcons’ “Grits Blitz” defense of 1977 that set an NFL record for fewest points allowed.

The sack was not made an official statistic until after Humphrey’s retirement, but a film review of his career determined that he finished as the Falcons’ all-time leader in that category with 94.5 sacks.

During his 11th season, when he grew weary of losing, he abruptly quit the team.

“One day I was sitting in the locker room and said, you know, this thing isn’t getting any better,” Humphrey told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently. “I put my stuff in the locker and left, it was just that simple. I wasn’t mad at anybody because there was nothing I could do as a player but do what I did. They said they weren’t going to trade me. That was obvious.”

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Former Atlanta Falcons star Claude Humphrey poses with his family's portraits in his Bartlett, Tenn. home in 2014.

Credit: Brandon Dill

Former Atlanta Falcons star Claude Humphrey poses with his family's portraits in his Bartlett, Tenn. home in 2014.
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Former Atlanta Falcons star Claude Humphrey poses with his family's portraits in his Bartlett, Tenn. home in 2014.

Credit: Brandon Dill

Credit: Brandon Dill

The Falcons rebounded from 1-3 start that drove Humphrey away in 1978 and went on to make their first trip to the postseason.

In 2008, Humphrey was added to the Falcons’ ring of honor.

Late in his life, Humphrey has been confronted with significant health issues: diabetes; the loss of a kidney to cancer. He was not a part of the large class-action concussion lawsuit against the NFL.

Humphrey joined his other top pass-rushing contemporaries from his era such as Deacon Jones (1980) and Jack Youngblood (2001) of the Los Angeles Rams, and Elvin Bethea (2003) of the Houston Oilers.

Humphrey was born June 29, 1944 in Memphis.

Humphrey was inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame in 2012. He is a member of the the Georgia and Tennessee state hall of fames. Tennessee State retired his number and inducted him into their Hall of Fame..

ExploreRead and sign the online guestbook for Claude Humphrey
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The Atlanta Falcons defense, including linebackers Greg Brezine (50). Ralph Ortega (55), and Robert Pennywell (59), and defensive linemen Jeff Merrow (75), Wilson Faumina (74), and Claude Humphrey (87), wait for the snap in 1977.

Credit: NFL

The Atlanta Falcons defense, including linebackers Greg Brezine (50). Ralph Ortega (55), and Robert Pennywell (59), and defensive linemen Jeff Merrow (75), Wilson Faumina (74), and Claude Humphrey (87), wait for the snap in 1977.
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The Atlanta Falcons defense, including linebackers Greg Brezine (50). Ralph Ortega (55), and Robert Pennywell (59), and defensive linemen Jeff Merrow (75), Wilson Faumina (74), and Claude Humphrey (87), wait for the snap in 1977.

Credit: NFL

Credit: NFL

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Hall of Fame Inductee Claude Humphrey poses with his bust during the 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, in Canton, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Credit: Tony Dejak

Hall of Fame Inductee Claude Humphrey poses with his bust during the 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, in Canton, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
caption arrowCaption
Hall of Fame Inductee Claude Humphrey poses with his bust during the 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, in Canton, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Credit: Tony Dejak

Credit: Tony Dejak

CLAUDE HUMPHREY’S PRO RESUME

• First-round pick of Falcons in 1968, third overall

• 1968 Defensive Rookie of the Year

• Fumble recovery and 24-yard return was only touchdown in Falcons’ 1969 victory over Minnesota, breaking the Vikings’ 12-game winning streak

• 1976 Falcons MVP

• Six-time Pro Bowl player, tied for most in Falcons history

• Falcons’ all-time sack leader (94.5)

• Traded to Philadelphia in 1979, played three more seasons

• Credited with 130 career sacks (not an official stat until after he retired)

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