ATLANTA — Football Hall of Famer Claude Humphrey, who played 10 years for the Falcons and was described as a tenacious player who was admired for his team leadership, died on Friday night at the age of 77.
The team did not disclose his cause of death. The Associated Press reported he died "unexpectedly" in his hometown Memphis.
In a statement, Falcons owner Arthur Blank said the organization was saddened by Humphrey's death and offered prayers to his family and friends.
"Claude made an indelible impression on so many from Memphis to the Falcons and across the NFL with his leadership and tenacious approach on the field," Blank said. "His Falcons legacy was cemented as a forever memory with induction into our Ring of Honor and he will be greatly missed. May he rest in peace."
Humphrey was inducted into the Falcons Ring of Honor in 2008 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He was also inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 1988.
Pro Football Hall of Fame President Jim Porter in a statement remembered Humphrey as a "hard worker and a reliable teammate" who was "always willing to help the team out wherever needed and knew success was achieved collectively."
"His humble spirit guided him on and off the field," Porter said.
The AP described Humphrey as "one of the NFL's most fearsome pass rushers during the 1970s" who was credited with 130 career sacks (though sacks were not officially tallied during his playing days).
“Before they started keeping records of sacks, man, I was getting sacks left and right,” the AP quoted Humphrey once saying. “The thing about me, I didn’t care so much about getting the sack. A sack was just a tackle back then. Tackling the quarterback or tackling the ball carrier on a running play was all the same.”
After starring on mostly mediocre Falcons teams over the course of a decade, Humphrey joined the Philadelphia Eagles in 1979 and a year later, at 36 years old, got to play in Super Bowl XV. He called that "the most exciting thing that could have ever happened to me."
Humphrey was a 6-time Pro Bowler and an 8-time All-NFL or All-Pro selection, according to the Falcons.
Porter, the Hall of Fame president, said the institution would "forever guard his legacy" and that flags at the museum would be flown at half-staff in his memory.