Pine Nuts: Hugh ‘The King’ McElhenny
Hugh McElhenny was king of the world to me when I was 10 years old. They said he took a cut in pay when he left the University of Washington for the San Francisco 49ers, but he didn’t seem to mind.
He was as easy going and graceful in manner as anybody alive back in the ’50s, and I learned this first-hand from riding my bike to St. Marys College where the Niners practiced in preseason. I watched his every move, and determined to be just like him when I grew up. (It didn’t happen.)
One warm Sunday afternoon Sammy de Franco and I were exploring the St. Mary’s campus when we discovered a ventilation duct in the roof of the locked-up indoor swimming pool. Voila! Scooting across the rafters, we secured a rope we had brought along for just such emergencies, tied the loose end to a shoe to fit between our legs, and took turns swinging out across the water from the three meter diving board. It worked great and we were having a good time when we noticed our heroes entering the showers on the other side of the windows. Then the miracle happened …
Hugh McElhenny, not one to miss an opportunity for fun, signaled for us to open the door that connected the pool to the showers, which of course we were happy to do. Then into the pool area came the entire team.
Joe “The Jet” Perry wanted to take a swing on our rope, so he climbed up onto the 3-meter board, placed the shoe between his legs and took off. It did not end well. Joe broke the rope and landed so flat they had to jump in and save him. It might not have been so bad if he had worn a swimsuit, but he didn’t.
Then came the miracle … Hugh McElhenny climbed up onto the 3-meter diving board and boosted me into the rafters so I could re-tie our rope. Well, there I was, in the rafters above St. Mary’s pool, having been hoisted there by my hero, Hugh “The King” McElhenny. I would have busted all the buttons on my shirt, had I had one on.
Hugh McElhenny became a first-team All-America running back in 1951, NFL Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year in ’52, Pro Bowl Most Valuable Player in ’58, and a member of both college and professional halls of fame. Had the Niners fielded a leetle stronger offensive line, Hugh McElhenny might be heralded today as the best running back of all time. His Topps football card is valued at $1,154.99, as of this writing.
But The King’s most cherished award is a simple plaque presented to him by Chicago Bears fans. It’s nothing fancy, but oh so classy: “To the most respected opponent the Bears ever faced. If everyone played the game like Hugh McElhenny, wouldn’t it be beautiful.”
Hugh McElhenny will turn 90 this New Year’s Eve, and I for one, will be hoisting a flute of champagne to him on high, “Long live The King!”
Learn more about McAvoy Layne at http://www.ghostoftwain.com.
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