An Atlanta Falcons fan gets used to certain injustices. There is no Super Bowl to point to, no multi-year Super Bowl trips to take some solace in. Most galling of all, after nearly 50 years as a franchise, there has been no true Hall of Fame Falcon.
Super Bowls are largely within a team's control. You can get bad breaks, but you've got to play well enough as a team to get in, or you join 29 other teams on your comfortable if tear-stained coaches. The Hall of Fame is a different beast, one that is odd and fickle and does not necessarily reward your greatness. The Falcons have existed for nearly five decades, and despite some true legends playing for the team in that time, they had only Deion Sanders in the Hall of Fame. Deion, as great as he was, was only a Falcon for five seasons. It felt like an injustice because it was an injustice, with the Hall a blind, groping behemoth that somehow did not pick up Mike Kenn, Tommy Nobis, Jeff Van Note or Jessie Tuggle.
Enter Claude Humphrey. Aside from a three season stint with the Philadelphia Eagles, Humphrey was a Falcon for a decade. He was a six-time Pro Bowler, five-time All-Pro and broadly one of the better defensive linemen who ever played the game. His 126.5 sacks in just 171 games tell that story well enough, but obviously his dominance is anecdotal for fans like me who were born in the mid-1980's and beyond. We have to rely on the numbers to tell the tale. For those of you who watched him, there was little question. His greatness has never been in doubt, but he had to wait for the recognition.
I have to imagine Humphrey has no interest in being a symbol of a new era, but that's precisely what he is for many Falcons fans. We are in an age of Falcons football where few people treat this team like the laughingstock it always was, even after a lousy season. Finally getting one of the franchise greats into the Hall of Fame feels like a momentous occasion because it is a momentous occasion, one that may even prompt a second look at players like Kenn, Nobis and Van Note. It is not longer a given that the Falcons and their best players will be left out of all-time discussions, and this is progress. It is slow, unsteady and rife with naysayers, but it is progress nonetheless.
Congratulations, Claude Humphrey, and congratulations to the Hall of Fame for getting this one right.