Back in 2007 and just a few days before historic Super Bowl 41, I spoke with Claude Humphrey and later crafted a story that led with this assertion: "A lot people think Claude Humphrey should be in the NFL Hall of Fame."
Seven years later, Humphrey, who graduated from old Lester High School in Binghampton before going on to Tennessee State University and the NFL (where he played from 1968 to 1981), has made it into the NFL's shrine.
Last Saturday (Feb. 1st), the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Selection Committee held its annual selection meeting, electing Humphrey – an exceptionally talented defensive end – as part of the seven-member Class of 2014.
On Aug. 2nd, Humphrey will be formally enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, along with linebacker Derrick Brooks, punter Ray Guy, tackle Walter Jones, wide receiver Andre Reed, defensive end Michael Strahan, and cornerback/safety Aeneas Williams. Televised nationally by the NFL Network, the Enshrinement Ceremony takes place at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio.
As word of Humphrey's election spread, so did the joy about an honor that Memphians such as Robert S. Crawford labeled as "late coming but well deserved."
Taking to social media, Crawford wrote, "This prestigious honor has made a plethora of people very, very, happy and proud. ...This is a 'Great Weekend in NFL Football.'"
My 2007 conversation with Humphrey was tied to the fact that two African-American coaches – Lovie Smith (Chicago) and Tony Dungy (Indianapolis) – were coaching against each other in the NFL's biggest spectacle. I wanted the view of a pro that had experienced some of the growing-pain days for African-Americans in pro football.
"This is about change. It's time," said Humphrey. "They should have hired some African-American head coaches long, long ago."
Humphrey was one of the game's great pass rushers. He toiled for years with the Atlanta Falcons and recorded 122 sacks in 14 seasons. He missed all of one season with an injury. In his next to last season, he sacked the quarterback 14.5 times during the Philadelphia Eagles' run to the Super Bowl.
I asked Humphrey about the Super Bowl he played in and I remember him being quite direct with his answer.
"We lost the game on the practice field. Only losers come up with excuses. The people who won don't have any excuses. We were in January practicing two and half hours and spending 7-hour days and all of that. The Oakland Raiders, who defeated us, were out having a good time, partying and enjoying the fact that they were at the Super Bowl," he said.
"We attacked the Super Bowl as a business. They attacked it purely as what it was – a game. When game time came around, we were so tied up in a knot about the business aspects, we lost all the enjoyment. I got an extra paycheck, but as far as saying I got great memories, no."
In 2014, many have great memories of Humphrey. A football trading card that I have of Humphrey shows him in his defensive-end stance while a member of the Falcons. It notes that he is "All Pro" and includes a phrase that has marked Humphrey's life and career:
"Claude keeps getting better and better."