Former Viking McElhaney. Hall of Fame midfielder, dies at 93


Hugh McElhaney, the elusive Hall of Fame midfielder who starred in the San Francisco 49ers film “Backfield for a Million Dollars” in the mid-1950s, has died. He was 93 years old.

The Professional Football Hall of Fame reported on Thursday that McElenny died of natural causes on June 17 at his home in Nevada, and that son-in-law Chris Perman has confirmed his death.

Elected to the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1970, McElhaney’s exciting runs and all-around skills as a runner, receiver and kickback made him one of the best NFL players of the 1950s. Of the 49ers from 1954-56, McElheny was part of “Million Dollar Backfield” with quarterback E.A. The title, midfielder John Henry Johnson and fullback Joe Perry are also all Hall of Fame.

“The 49ers family with a broken heart learned of the death of one of the all-time NFL greats, Hugh McElhaney,” San Francisco co-chair Dr. John York said in a statement. “When I grew up, my favorite team was the 49ers. I remember so many great players from the late 50s and 60s.

“When I started inviting alumni to every game, my goal was to meet the ‘Million Dollar Backfield.’ Hugh was the last of the four to join us, and we remained friends. Hugh is a big part of the 49ers story.”

McEllini was a rookie of the year in the NFL in 1952 (before the award became official) and joined two All-Pro teams, six Pro Bowls and an NFL team for the entire decade of the 1950s.

“Hugh McElhaney was a threat at all stages of the offensive game – rushing, taking a pass and returning blows and punches,” Hall of Fame President Jim Porter said in a statement. “His talent on all sides – obvious to professional football scouts when Hugh was still a teenager – will be celebrated and preserved forever in Canton.”

From Los Angeles, 6 feet 1, 195 pounds McElhaney began his career at Compton Junior College before retiring to Washington, D.C., where he set several Pacific Coast conference records.

McElheny was selected by the 49ers under a ninth overall in the 1952 draft and made an instant impact. That season, he led the NFL in the number of yards per carry (7.0), and McElhaney had the longest run from the bout (89 yards) and the longest footprint (94 yards). He scored 10 touchdowns as a rookie.

It was the start of nine seasons in which McElhaney was the 49ers ’main offensive weapon. Only in 1954, when a separate shoulder brought him to the background after six games, and in 1960, his last year in San Francisco, McElhaney did not become a focal point for the Niners.

McElenney was also something of a savior of the franchise, which was appropriate because the 49ers once tried to drop him out of high school – where he starred in George Washington – when they were still at the All-American Football Conference.

“When Hugh joined the 49ers in 1952, it was doubtful whether our franchise would survive,” said Lou Spadia, the team’s general manager at the time. “McElhaney has removed all doubts. That’s why we call it our franchise.”

Defenders would have called it differently because their hands were full of air instead of a swordsman.

“My attitude towards carrying the ball was fearful,” he said. “Not the fear of getting hurt, but the fear of being caught behind and beaten up and embarrassed yourself and your teammates.”

The Nines have been in the postseason only once with McElheny, losing in the 1957 Western Conference Championships in Detroit. In 1961, McElhaney was left on the expansion draft list and was fascinated by Minnesota. He spent a solid season and came out in the Pro Bowl when the Vikings went 3-11 in their first season.

Problems with his knees slowed him down. He played another year in Minnesota, spent 1963 as a backup to the New York Giants, where he played in his only NFL championship game, losing to Chicago, and ended his career in 1964 in Detroit.

When he retired, McElhaney was one of three players to score more than 11,000 universal yards. In 146 regular-season games in his 13-season career in the NFL, he slipped 5,281 yards and 38 touchdowns and received 3,247 yards and 20 touchdowns.


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Former Viking McElhaney. Hall of Fame midfielder, dies at 93

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