ATLANTA -- Pro Football Hall of Famer Claude Humphrey, one of the NFL's most fearsome pass-rushers during the 1970s with the Atlanta Falcons, has died at the age of 77.
Humphrey, who also played for the Philadelphia Eagles, died unexpectedly in Atlanta on Friday night, according to the Hall of Fame, which was informed of his death by his daughter. No cause was given.
"We are saddened by the passing of Claude Humphrey and send our prayers out for his family and friends in this difficult time," Atlanta Falcons owner and chairman Arthur M. Blank said in a statement. "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. 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 the No. 3 overall pick by the Falcons out of Tennessee State in 1968 and went on to play 11 years with the team, earning the last of six Pro Bowl appearances as a member of the famed "Grits Blitz" defense in 1977.
He went to the Eagles in 1979 and served as a designated pass-rusher on the 1980 team that reached the Super Bowl.
Humphrey retired after the 1981 season, before sacks became an official stat, but he was retroactively credited with 130 sacks over 13 seasons (he missed the entire 1975 season recovering from a knee injury).
Humphrey was a finalist for the Hall of Fame in 2003, 2005 and 2006, but he failed to get in each time. He finally was elected as a senior candidate in February 2014.
"I'm not glad that it took so long,'' he said before the induction ceremony, "but I'm glad I got in when I can smell the flowers.''
Humphrey, who was just the second Falcons player after Deion Sanders to be elected to the Hall of Fame, insisted that he had even more sacks than he was given credit for.
"Before they started keeping records of sacks, man, I was getting sacks left and right,'' he said. "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.''
"The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Claude Humphrey," Hall of Fame president Jim Porter said in a statement. "Known as a hard worker and a reliable teammate, Humphrey 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."
The Hall of Fame flag outside the museum in Canton, Ohio, will be flown at half-staff in Humphrey's honor, Porter added.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report