The Philadelphia Eagles organization mourns the passing of Claude Humphrey, one of the most dominant defensive players in the history of the sport. The Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end died Friday night at the age of 77.
After spending the first 10-plus seasons of his illustrious career with the Atlanta Falcons, the Eagles traded for Humphrey in 1979 and he was a critical reason why the Eagles were able to transcend into a Super Bowl-caliber team.
"Claude was a tremendous inspiration for a young coach," said Eagles Hall of Fame Head Coach Dick Vermeil. "Knowing he was a veteran, I would ask him if he wanted a day off from time to time in Training Camp. But he always refused. He never took off a practice or a wind sprint. He had a fantastic work ethic. In fact, Claude made up T-shirts that the guys loved – 'I Survived Dick Vermeil's Training Camp,' or whatever it said, and it was just perfect."
Fellow Pro Football Hall of Famer Harold Carmichael expressed how the 6-foot-4, 252-pound Humphrey was the perfect fit for those Eagles teams.
"We already had a good defense when Claude came here, but he added toughness and experience and he was just a great, great player," Carmichael said. "He helped us get over the top and his experience, I think, helped us in those situations when we needed someone to step up. He fit in so well with what Dick wanted: He played for the team and he was a rugged guy. He was an older guy (36 when he joined the Eagles in 1979) and he just made big play after big play. I really enjoyed him as a player and as a person and I'm sad to hear the news. I know he hadn't been feeling well lately. It's very sad news."
Linebacker Bill Bergey explained how Humphrey epitomized the type of player that the Eagles needed.
"He was a cornerstone of what we were doing with the Philadelphia Eagles. When he spoke, and it wasn't often, everybody listened. He was a classy, hard-working player who came to us to win, and that's what we did," Bergey said. "He did his job and he did it well. We got him at the tail end of his career, but he still was one of those guys who always did his job the right way. He never complained. He never took a play off. He just played football and he was into being a Philadelphia Eagle right away."
The Eagles offered Humphrey something that he never had before – a chance to be a part of a winning team.
"Philadelphia was the specific place that I wanted to go due to the fact that coach Dick Vermeil was there (along with Defensive Coordinator) Marion Campbell, who had been my head coach and my defensive coordinator (in Atlanta). I just wanted to reunite with Marion and see if he couldn't help boost my career at that time," Humphrey said.
Vermeil thought that Humphrey still had some gas left in the tank. That's why the Eagles traded away a pair of fourth-round draft picks for the rights to Humphrey. In his second year with the Eagles, Humphrey led the Eagles with an unofficial 14.5 sacks as a situational pass rusher as Philadelphia captured its first NFC Championship.
"Being with the Eagles was the way I thought football was going to be. I just hate that it came so late in my career. But playing with Philadelphia was one of the best things that ever could have happened to me," Humphrey said.
The sack did not become an unofficial stat until 1982, one year after Humphrey retired. Humphrey accumulated 130 sacks in his brilliant career. He was rightly recognized as one of the truly dominant defensive players of all time when he was finally inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014.
"You work all those years and you work hard and you try to be the best at what you do. And then to finally get the recognition and be thought of in the same category with some of the guys that are already in the Hall of Fame, it's a great experience," Humphrey said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime deal. I cherish the memories of it very much."
Vermeil had a perfect way of summarizing the impact Humphrey had on the game of football.
"Deacon Jones named the sack and Claude Humphrey outlawed it," Vermeil said. "He was that kind of player."