The word around the NFL after the 1977 season was that Deacon Jones may have named the head slap but it was Claude Humphrey who outlawed it.
“It’s true,’’ the Falcons’ Hall of Fame defensive end said. “They tried to slow me down, taking out the head slap but I didn’t do that much. It wasn’t like I killed anyone or had someone dragged off the field.’’
The NFL changed the rules in 1978, making it harder for players like Humphrey to get to the quarterback. But he would still finish his career as one of the greatest pass rushers ever, finally getting recognized for it in 2014 when he was enshrined in Canton.
It was a long road for Humphrey, who was born in Memphis and went to Lester High School where he also excelled on the basketball court. But he would play football in college, turning down colleges like Illinois and Nebraska because he felt more comfortable at a predominately black university and choosing Tennessee State.
There, he dominated for the Tigers, playing on two undefeated teams in back-to-back seasons (1965-66). He was a small-college All-American and went to the Senior Bowl. He then was taken by the Falcons third overall in the 1968 NFL/AFL draft behind tackle Ron Yary (No. 1 to Minnesota) and center Bob Johnson (No. 2 to Cincinnati).
Humphrey joined the Falcons during their third year of existence and despite the team going 2-12 under two head coaches, — they fired Norb Hecker after three games and hired Norm Van Brocklin — he was named the league’s rookie of the year. He would go on to play in six Pro Bowls and make first-team All-Pro on five occasions.
He was the anchor of the team’s defense in 1977 when the “Gritz Blitz’’ set a 14-game record of allowing just 129 points (9.2 game). It was after that season that Humphrey went into his option year and, upset about not getting a new contract and feuding with general manager Eddie LeBaron, he quit after the third game.
He was also upset that of his 10 full seasons with the Falcons, they had just two winning records. He sat out the rest of the 1978 season and then signed with Philadelphia, where he played three seasons and went to Super Bowl XV in 1981.
While sack statistics were not officially kept during most of his career, Humphrey was eventually credited with 122 sacks over his NFL during his career, with 94.5 coming in Atlanta.
After leaving football, Humphrey went back to Memphis and raised cattle. He also dabbled in acting, appearing in an episode of “The Dukes of Hazard.’’ He coached in Atlanta for a few seasons under Marion Campbell, his defensive coordinator for part of his time while playing in Atlanta.
He is a member of the College Football Black Hall of Fame and was put in the Falcons inaugural Ring of Honor in 2008. For many years, it didn’t appear Humphrey would make it into Canton. He as a finalist in 2003, ‘05, ‘06 and also didn’t get in when he was a senior finalist in ‘09. But 2014, the Hall finally welcomed him in.
Where he lives: Humphrey, 72, lives in Memphis with one of his daughters and grandson. He was married to Sandra Humphrey for 48 years before she passed away three years ago. He has three daughters: Chandra, Claudia and Candi.
What he does: Having lost a kidney to cancer and living with diabetes for many years, Humphrey has slowed down. He loves to play checkers — he belongs to an all-checkers club — and spends a lot of time with his 14-year-old grandson, who is playing football for the first time.
On going to Tennessee State: "There were a couple of reasons. First, a good part of the faculty at my high school had gone to Tennessee State and I was just more comfortable around black people. I just didn't think I would feel comfortable at a predominately white school. I would have been in the minority. ''
On not getting chance to play basketball in college: "The coach didn't let me, which was disappointing, especially when Ed "Too Tall" Jones came in behind me and the coach let him play basketball.''
On being drafted by the Falcons: "They were the only team that didn't call me. Dallas and Kansas City were real interested but I didn't hear anything from the Falcons until they drafted me.''
On coming to Atlanta: "Based on what I know about football now, it was terrible in Atlanta during those early years. The city itself was not open to professional football players and it was tough getting around. But in the late 70's, it was the greatest place on earth. There was a lot of negative stuff in those early years, a lot of discrimination, It was the culture of the state of Georgia. I didn't take it personally; they did everyone that way.''
On his relationship with Van Brocklin: He turned me over to Marion Campbell and that was the last conversation I had with him. He was not talking to me anymore. Marion was like a father to me. He took me under his wing and made me a player.''
On the "Gritz Blitz'': "It was mostly scheme and Jerry Glanville did a great job with us. We didn't have top-notch players but we took a chance on giving up big plays and we ended up setting the record. We got to the quarterback a lot.''
On Glanville: "He was a very good coach but I don't think his elevator went to the top floor.''
On being a big talker on the field: "That came from college. At the black colleges, we did a lot of talking, running our mouths and all that crazy stuff. But Van Brocklin didn't like that. He chastised me for it, so I had to say a lot of things under my breath.''
On quitting the team: "The (Rankin) Smith family didn't want to pay me. It would have been like giving the Smith family a free year and trying to negotiate with Eddie LeBaron was impossible. I could not stand Eddie. Everything he said just irritated me and I just walked out of that last meeting and that was it.''
On watching his grandson play: "I figured I would watch but leave him alone. I don't mess with him. I figure he can only have one coach.''
On waiting to get into the NFL Hall of Fame: "I didn't have a great relationship with the media in Atlanta and that is part of the reason it took so long. In those early years, there were a lot of cities standing up for me but not Atlanta. But it is OK. I am just as happy getting in to the Hall in 20014 as I would have been the first time.''
On his Hall of Fame speech: "I was up for the Hall so many times, I just wanted to make sure I thanked all the people that were there at the beginning. I had to let them all know I had not forgotten them and I still missed a bunch of people. I hate to get up there and brag on myself. I don't do a lot of that.''
On today’s Falcons: “I follow them very closely. The Falcons are my team. I played in Philly and had some of my best performances in Philly. Don’t get me wrong, there were some really good times there and we went to the Super Bowl. But I am partial to Atlanta.’’
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