March 5, 2013

1979: Falcons Trade Claude Humphrey to Eagles

On March 5, 1979 the Atlanta Falcons traded former All-Pro DE Claude Humphrey to the Philadelphia Eagles. Humphrey was sent to the Eagles for “future undisclosed draft choices”, although it was understood that the unspecified picks would come from the 1979 and ’80 drafts (they turned out to be fourth-round choices in each).

Humphrey had retired four games into the 1978 season but later expressed a desire to return to pro football, although not with Atlanta. His stated preference was to play for a team that utilized a four-man defensive front, rather than three, although the Eagles used a 3-4 defense as well.

Much of Humphrey’s interest in playing for the Eagles stemmed from the presence of Marion Campbell as defensive coordinator, who had been defensive line coach and head coach in Atlanta earlier in his career. Fred Bruney, also formerly on the Falcons staff, was Philadelphia’s defensive secondary coach.

“I learned all of my football from Marion Campbell because he was there the whole time I was there,” said Humphrey. “I asked to come here. I asked to be traded to the Eagles.”

Humphrey was a 34-year-old veteran of ten NFL seasons. He was 6’5” and 265 pounds and was chosen by the Falcons in the first round in 1968 (third overall) coming out of Tennessee State. He made enough of an impact in his first season to be named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press and, in his third year, was named to the Pro Bowl for the first of five straight years and six overall. With his fine pass rushing ability, he was also a consensus first-team All-Pro in 1972 and ’73.

However, the player known as “Big Claude” had missed all of the 1975 season with a knee injury, and while he successfully came back and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1977, his having walked away during the ’78 season raised questions as to whether he still had the desire and ability to help the Eagles.

Philadelphia was very much a team on the rise under Head Coach Dick Vermeil, having gone 9-7 in ’78 and reaching the postseason for the first time since 1960. The defensive line was good against the run, with NT Charlie Johnson and DE Carl Hairston, but while DE Dennis Harrison showed promise as a rookie, the team had accumulated only 29 sacks – a drop from 47 in 1977. The need for an experienced pass rusher was evident, and Humphrey was successfully worked in as a pass rushing specialist.

The Eagles improved to 11-5 in 1979 and again qualified for a Wild Card playoff spot. The defense ranked ninth overall and Humphrey contributed significantly as a part-time player, credited with 10 sacks (unofficially, since sacks did not become an official NFL statistic until 1982) and 31 hurries. It did not hurt that Hairston had 15 sacks and Johnson played well enough in the middle of the line to gain selection to the Pro Bowl.

Philadelphia won the NFC East with a 12-4 tally in 1980 and advanced to the Super Bowl. Humphrey again excelled as a role player with another 14.5 sacks unofficially compiled during the course of the season. He lasted one more year before retiring for good at the age of 37. While his career came to an end just before sacks became an official statistic, it has been estimated that he accumulated 122 over the course of 13 years with the Falcons and Eagles.

As a footnote, Atlanta used the draft choices obtained for Humphrey to pick running backs. First, it was Lynn Cain from USC, taken in the 1979 fourth round, and then I.M. Hipp of Nebraska, from the fourth round in 1980. Cain was by far the better choice, playing six years for Atlanta and rushing for 2309 yards on 615 carries (3.8 avg.) and 19 touchdowns with a high of 914 yards in 1980. He also caught 127 passes for 1061 yards (8.4 avg.) and another 6 TDs, with highs of 55 for 421 yards in ’81. Meanwhile, Hipp failed to make the club and had no better luck with other NFL and USFL teams.