Who Was Hugh McElhenny and What Was His Cause of Death?

NFL HALL of Famer Hugh McElhenny died of natural causes at his home in Nevada on June 17, 2022.

McElhenny was a pro running back for the San Francisco 49ers in the 1950s and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1970.

49ers running back and NFL Hall of Famer Hugh McElhenny has died


49ers running back and NFL Hall of Famer Hugh McElhenny has diedPhoto credit: Getty

Who Was Hugh McElhenny?

Hugh McElhenny was a first-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers of the NFL in 1952 and proved himself as a rookie in his first season.

In his first professional game, he hit a 40-yard touchdown, led the season with 7 yards per attempt, and won the Rookie of the Year Award.

“When Hugh joined the 49ers in 1952, there was a question as to whether our franchise could survive,” Lou Spadia, the team’s general manager at the time, told the Chicago Sun-Times.

He continued: “McElhenny has cleared all doubts. That’s why we call him our franchise savior.”

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He stayed with the 49ers for nine seasons before joining the Minnesota Vikings, and he retired from the NFL after suffering a knee injury two seasons later in 1964.

By the end of his career, McElhenny was one of only three professional football players to streak for more than 11,000 all-purpose yards.

After retiring from the NFL, he became a commentator on 49ers radio shows and joined a group trying to bring an NFL expansion team to Seattle in the 1970s.

They were unsuccessful and the Seattle Seahawks were formed by another group and taken to the state.

McElhenny was inducted into the College Hall of Fame in 1980 and his anchoring day, held in Canton, recognized his teammates and opponents over the years.

“I want to pay tribute to the athletes I’ve played with for their second effort that made my runs successful,” McElhenny said, “and my opponents for all the mistakes they made to make me look good .”

How did he get into football?

McElhenny had his choice of colleges but instead chose Compton Junior College where he played football.

After a year on the team, he received offers from USC and UCLA, but turned them down both.

But when the University of Washington came knocking and asked him to be an All-American fullback as well as a punt returner, kickoff returner, and kicker, he said yes.

McElhenny finally explained his reasons for moving to Washington when he was 91 in an interview with The Atlantic.

“I had so many opportunities. I wanted to go to USC or UCLA and stay in Los Angeles, but the University of Washington came up with a package for me to marry my wife, Peggy, so I accepted their offer,” McElhenny told the outlet.

How did he die?

McElhenny died June 17 at his home in Nevada, the Pro Football Hall of Fame said in a press release.

His son-in-law Chris Permann confirmed his death. McElhenny was 93 years old.

His death was felt by everyone who knew him, including San Francisco co-chairman Dr. John York, who said he had always been in love with the 49ers.

“The 49ers family is heartbroken to learn of the passing of one of the NFL’s greats, Hugh McElhenny,” York said in a statement.

He added, “Growing up, the 49ers were my favorite team. I remember so many great players from the late 50’s and 60’s.

“When I first started inviting an alum to every game, my goal was to hit the ‘million dollar backfield.’

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“Hugh was the last of the four to join us and we remained friends. Hugh is a big part of 49ers history.”

Hall of Fame President Jim Porter said in a statement, “Hugh McElhenny was a threat offensively in all phases of the game – rushing, taking passes, and being a kick and punt returner. His all-round talent – evident to pro football scouts when Hugh was a teenager – will forever be celebrated and cherished in Canton.” Who Was Hugh McElhenny and What Was His Cause of Death?


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