GENE HICKERSON

GENE HICKERSON

Class of 2007
Guard >>> 6-3, 248
(Mississippi)
1958-1973 Cleveland Browns

Robert Eugene Hickerson ... Selected as future choice by Browns, 1957 draft ... A tackle in college, shifted to guard as a rookie to better utilize speed ... Lead blocker for three Hall of Fame running backs – Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell, and Leroy Kelly ... All-NFL five consecutive seasons, 1966-1970 ... Voted to six straight Pro Bowls ... Browns posted 1,000-yard rusher in 9 of Hickerson’s first 10 seasons, featured league’s leading rusher seven times ... Born February 15, 1935, in Trenton, Tennessee ... Died October 20, 2008 at age of 73.

Gene Hickerson, who was an outstanding fullback in high school, became a tackle at the University of Mississippi.  He was regarded as one of the best, if not the finest, linemen in the Southeastern Conference during the end of his collegiate career.

The Cleveland Browns wasted little time in securing him for their offensive line.  The Browns selected him as a future choice in the 7th round of the 1957 NFL Draft.

Hickerson joined the Browns in 1958 and was promptly shifted to guard to better utilize his speed.  He had to pay his dues by first serving as one of Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown’s “messenger” guards.   Hickerson quickly went from delivering plays to the huddle to establishing himself as the steady lead blocker for three future Hall of Fame running backs – Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell, and Leroy Kelly. 

After just three seasons in the NFL, Hickerson’s career was slowed when he suffered a broken leg in the 1961 pre-season opener. He fractured the leg again late in the year when he was hit while watching a game from the sideline.
He rebounded fully by the following season.  After sitting out two games in 1962, he never missed another game for the remainder of his stellar career.  Along the way, he gained the reputation as the lead guard for Brown, regarded as one of the game’s greatest runners.   But, the official accolades really did not come until after Brown retired and Leroy Kelly became Cleveland’s featured back.  Hickerson earned first-team All-NFL acclaim five straight seasons, 1966-1970, and was voted to six consecutive Pro Bowls from 1966 to 1971. 

By the time Hickerson retired following the 1973 season at age of 38, his accomplishments on the football field were unquestioned.  During his tenure, the Browns never experienced a losing season. In all, he played in 202 games during his career and started at right guard in four NFL title games that included the Browns’ 27-0 win over the Baltimore Colts in the 1964 NFL Championship Game.

Prior to Hickerson joining the Browns, there had been just seven runners in the entire history of the NFL to reach 1,000 yards rushing in a season.  With Hickerson paving the way, the Browns featured a 1,000-yard rusher in every season but one during Gene’s first 10 pro seasons.  Furthermore, Cleveland featured the NFL’s leading ground gainer in seven of those seasons.  Hickerson’s contribution in helping that happen was recognized when he was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1960s.

Year Team
G
1958 Cleveland
12
1959 Cleveland
12
1960 Cleveland
12
1961 Cleveland
Injured
1962 Cleveland
12
1963 Cleveland
14
1964 Cleveland
14
1965 Cleveland
14
1966 Cleveland
14
1967 Cleveland
14
1968 Cleveland
14
1969 Cleveland
14
1970 Cleveland
14
1971 Cleveland
14
1972 Cleveland
14
1973 Cleveland
14
Career Total
202
Championship Games

1964 NFL - Cleveland Browns 27, Baltimore Colts 0
Hickerson started at right guard in the game.

1965 NFL - Green Bay Packers 23, Cleveland Browns 12
Hickerson started at right guard in the game.

1968 NFL - Baltimore Colts 34, Cleveland Browns 0
Hickerson started at right guard in the game.

1969 NFL - Minnesota Vikings 27, Cleveland Browns 7
Hickerson started at right guard in the game.
 

All-Pro: 1968 (PFWA), 1969 (HOF)  

All-NFL: 1966 (NEA), 1967 (AP, UPI, NEA, NY), 1968 (AP, UPI, NEA, NY, PW), 1969 (AP, UPI, PW, NY), 1970 (PFWA)

All-NFL Second Team: 1964 (NEA), 1965 (AP, UPI), 1969 (NEA)

All-Eastern Conference: 1966 (SN), 1967 (SN), 1968 (SN), 1969 (SN)

All-AFC: 1970 (UPI)

(6) - 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971
 

Browns records held by Hickerson at the time of his retirement following the 1973 season

[1st] Most Consecutive Games - 165 
[2nd] Most Seasons - 15
[2nd] Most Game, Career - 216
[Tied for 2nd] Most Consecutive Seasons - 12 

 1960s All-Decade Team

Year Team
W
L
T
Division Finish
1958 Cleveland Browns
9
3
0
(2nd)
1959 Cleveland Browns
7
5
0
(2nd)
1960 Cleveland Browns
8
3
1
(2nd)
1962 Cleveland Browns
7
6
1
(3rd)
1963 Cleveland Browns
10
4
0
(2nd)
1964 Cleveland Browns
10
3
1
(1st)
1965 Cleveland Browns
11
3
0
(1st)
1966 Cleveland Browns
9
5
0
(2nd)
1967 Cleveland Browns
9
5
0
(1st)
1968 Cleveland Browns
10
4
0
(1st)
1969 Cleveland Browns
10
3
1
(1st)
1970 Cleveland Browns
7
7
0
(2nd)
1971 Cleveland Browns
9
5
0
(1st)
1972 Cleveland Browns
10
4
0
(2nd)
1973 Cleveland Browns
7
5
2
(3rd)

Gene_Hickerson

Full Name: Robert Eugene Hickerson

Birthdate: February 15, 1935

Birthplace: Trenton, Tennessee

Died: October 20, 2008

High School: Trezevant (TN)

Elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame: February 3, 2007

Presenter:  Bobby Franklin, Former Teammate and Longtime Friend

Other Members of the Class of 2007:
 Michael IrvinBruce MatthewsCharlie SandersThurman ThomasRoger Wehrli

Pro Career: 15 seasons, 202 games

Drafted: Future choice of 7th round (78th player overall) in 1957 by Cleveland Browns

Uniform Number: #66

Pro Football Hall of Fame Field at Fawcett Stadium
August 4, 2007

Video marks by Bobby Franklin:
Gene Hickerson and I have been friends for approximately 52 years. We became friends when I was a freshman at the University of Mississippi. Gene was two years ahead of me. He was such a great athlete that the Browns drafted him his junior year. I don't think they drafted a year early unless it was someone real special. They thought he was real special. Everybody knew how strong Gene was, had great feet, tremendous speed.

Paul Brown moved him to the right guard spot where he could block and pull. He realized that Gene needed to be in this full time to be able to lead the way for the great running back Jim Brown. You don't find very often a lineman with the speed that Gene Hickerson had and the strength he had. He led the way for three great running backs: Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell and Leroy Kelly. That speaks for itself, that he played for 15 years as a starter.

Gene wasn't a guy that talked and bragged about himself. He was a pretty quiet person. He wasn't an outgoing person. He just did his job and took pride in doing his job.

When Jim Brown ran well or Leroy Kelly, Bobby Mitchell ran well, Gene was happy. I even heard Jim Brown make a statement one time talking about Gene, what speed he had in pulling, in leading the way for him to get up field. He said Gene also had the speed to stay up field and throw the down field block, which sprang the runner to make the long run which was exciting for the fans.

I would say Gene was pretty valuable to the team. He made the Pro Bowl, All NFL. Gene left the game on his own time. Gene's son, Bob Hickerson, called me and asked me if I would present Gene Hickerson. The fact that Gene has been ill for the last several years, I was a little hesitant because being as close as Gene Hickerson and I were, it's a tough thing for me to do, as you can see right here, today. I've got to make myself tough when I start talking about Gene. But it's a great honor to be asked to present my best friend.

Bobby Franklin (presenter):
First I'd like to congratulate all the Hall of Famers, inductees coming in today. Congratulations.

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, friends and family of Gene Hickerson, University of Mississippi teammates, Cleveland Brown teammates, and professional football Hall of Famers.

I can't begin to tell you what an honor it is for me to stand before you and speak about the Class of 2007 inductee, Gene Hickerson, my teammate and friend of 52 years.

As a teammate of Gene's at both the University of Mississippi and the Browns, I personally, like many of you, have been waiting and hoping for this honor to be bestowed on him for far too long. Gene has been eligible for the Hall since 1979. For many years he was a finalist, but with so many other deserving players he never seemed to make it.

I would like to thank the senior selection committee led by long time NFL writer Don Pierson of the Chicago Tribune for helping to correct this oversight. I would also like to thank Tony Grossi from the Cleveland Plain Dealer for being a champion of Gene Hickerson. He was probably the one that kept his name alive. Without their help, this day might not have come for Gene and the Cleveland Brown fans.

Gene Hickerson will tell you he had the good fortune too have been able to block for some of the greatest running backs the NFL has ever had, like Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell and Leroy Kelly. No one can argue with that. But if you actually talk to those three Hall of Famers today, they will tell you they were the lucky ones to have had Gene Hickerson leading the way through defensive units geared to stop them.

In Gene's 15 years with the Browns, they had nine seasons with a thousand yards rushing. Gene will also tell you that he would not be here today without the help of many of his offensive line teammates like Dick Schafrath, John Wooten, Jim Ray Smith, Monte Clark, John Morrow and Doug Dieken, just to name a few.

I recently heard Doug Dieken, a fellow lineman of the 1973 Browns tell a story about Gene. Doug said during the 1973 season, the Browns were playing the Houston Oilers, who had a hot shot 22 year old rookie named John Matuszak. Gene, 38 years old at the time, was lined up across from John for the entire ballgame. At the beginning of the game, John was really talking some trash to Gene, telling the old man what he was going to do to him.

Gene responded by giving him a good lesson in Football 101. Matuszak finished the game without a tackle and sack and was virtually a non factor as Cleveland beat the Oilers 42 13.

Gene finished his entire career as a member of the Cleveland Browns, a fact he was extremely proud of. He quietly did his job as well as anyone ever in the NFL. In all circumstances I would be almost to the point of introducing my good friend to you, Gene Hickerson. Gene would then step to the podium, tell you how thrilled he is to receive this honor today, and crack a joke or two.

Unfortunately he won't be doing that, as my friend has become ill in the last year or so and will not be able to speak to you today. Even though he is here, I love Gene Hickerson as if he were my brother. I know his son, Bob, his daughter Nancy, his brother Willie and the remainder of his friends, family and teammates do, too.

Borrowing these words from another Hall of Famer, Gale Sayers, I would like to ask you all to love Gene Hickerson.

In closing, it is my honor to present to you the newest member of the professional football Hall of Fame, only the second member to come from the University of Mississippi, joining Bruiser Kinard, and the 16th Cleveland Brown to be inducted, let's hear it for Bob Hickerson, his son, who will be accepting for his Gene today, No. 66 Gene Hickerson.

Bob Hickerson (representing father):
I'd like to say it's certainly my privilege and honor to say a few words on behalf of Gene Hickerson.

We all wish Gene could be speaking with you, but unfortunately due to his circumstances he's unable to do so.

Gene was very, very pleased when he did receive notification that had been elected into the Hall of Fame. It's a tremendous honor and it's a well deserved crowning achievement of his career.

In my opinion, Gene is actually joining football royalty. I've been around a lot of these players this week and I'm in awe of the great talent and wonderful athletes that he is joining into the Hall of Fame.

Gene had many supporters who had been pulling for him to achieve this honor over the years. I'd like to recognize a select few this evening.

First I wish to extend Gene's gratitude to the voting committee that elected him into the Hall of Fame with a special thank you to Mr. Don Pierson of the Chicago Tribune. It's my understanding that Mr. Pierson stood and spoke for Gene, spoke on his behalf, and I think that held a lot of weight with him actually being elected.

Bobby Franklin recognized Tony Grossi. I also would like to mention him. With the Plain Dealer, he has written many articles over the years to keep Gene's name in front of the public, just keep reminding people that Gene deserves to be here in the Hall of Fame. So our thanks to him.

Also on behalf of Gene, I'd like to extend his thank you to the Cleveland Browns and the Cleveland Browns organization, with a special thank to Mr. Dino Lucarelli. Mr. Lucarelli is the alumni director for the Browns. He's been a very good friend and supporter of Gene for many years. He told Gene, he's told him for years, Gene, when you make it to Canton I'm going to be right there with you. He is. He's actually hosting a reception for him later this evening.

Gene is actually the 16th member of the Cleveland Browns to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. A few of the one of my friends actually said some of the fans have mentioned that they were calling Gene Sweet 16. Well, that might be so, but I believe there's a few defensive backs and you linebackers that probably wouldn't think Gene is that sweet.

Also on his behalf I'd like to extend his gratitude to the many great athletes that he had a privilege of playing with over the years. We're very grateful to Bobby Franklin for agreeing to be his presenter. It's fitting that Bobby is Gene's presenter because he and Bobby have been best of friends for many, many years, back to Ole Miss days.

I'd also like to extend Gene's gratitude to Mr. Jim Houston. Mr. Houston has been very gracious to attend several press events and speak to the media of what it was like playing with Gene over the years, what it was like being a teammate of his.

I'd also like to extend Gene's gratitude to Mr. Doug Deacon and Mr. Dick Schafrath, both who reside in northern Ohio, both who have been very close to Gene. They've been great about visiting Gene, checking on him, see how he's doing, following up on his condition, what have you.

I've got a short story I'd like to tell about Mr. Schafrath. I don't know if any of you know or not, but Mr. Schafrath and Gene were roommates in the early playing days. The other day I was visiting Gene. Mr. Schafrath came in. They had a reputation of being, shall we say, mischievous throughout the years. Mr. Schafrath leaned over to me and said, All of my mischievous ways, all of my bad habits, he said, I learned them all from Gene. I said, That's funny, Dick, he said the same thing about you. That's a true story.

I also wish to express Gene's gratitude to the many, many fans that have been pulling for him over the years. Many people have come up to me, if they associate my name with his, and say, He deserves to be here. He deserves this honor. So I'd like to extend his gratitude.

A special thank you to Mr. Dave Sefcik and Mr. Dave Jackabowski. These gentlemen hosted a website that was linked into the members of the voting committee. They did a great deal on lobbying for Gene to get votes to be elected here.

I think the name of the website was elect Gene Hickerson into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That says it all, doesn't it?

I, also on Gene's behalf, would like to extend his gratitude to some very close friends he has. Mimi and Jimmy Hall, the Hall family. The Hall family have been great friends for Gene over the years. They are like his family. They are like his extended family. They help with his care. They help visit him and take care of him. They've just been wonderful friends of his. I'd like to recognize them.

I also would like to recognize people very dear to me. My wife Eileen, my daughter Caitlin, and my son Clifton who are with us. Also my sister Nancy is with us tonight and her family.

Eileen was instrumental in sending many emails and made many phone calls to ask people to vote for Gene when the time came. I think she was probably the happiest of all when he finally did get the call.

The other day I asked her, I said, Eileen, who is the biggest football fan you know of? She paused for a moment. She said, I am. I said, I can't disagree with that. I believe you. I think you really are.

Lastly I wish to extend Gene's gratitude and my personal thanks to Mr. Steve Perry and Mr. Joe Horrigan, the entire staff of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Due to his condition, there's a lot of uncertainties about the induction ceremony here, how we would handle it. The induction process was not a normal process for him. Their staff has been very supportive and they've been very professional and they tried to put us at ease. No matter what came up, no matter what happened, we had a plan for it. I'd like to extend our thanks to them, as well.

In closing I'd like to share a story with you that someone relayed to me years ago. I had a client in Indiana, his name was Mr. Charles Shaw. Mr. Shaw is a fine gentleman. He was an avid Cleveland Browns fan. He told me that once, after watching a successful Cleveland Browns game in which Hall of Fame running back Leroy Kelly had one of his many outstanding games where he scored several times, gained a lot of yardage, he was being interviewed by a sports journalist. To set the stage, this was the year after Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown retired.

The journalist said, Leroy, you just had an outstanding game. He said, You were able to be a backup to Jim Brown for a few years and watch him play. He said, So you probably learned a lot by watching and observing Jim Brown run the football.

He said that Mr. Kelly paused for a moment and said, I did learn a lot by watching Jim Brown run the ball. He said, I learned to follow Gene Hickerson.

So at this time I would ask all of you to please join me in welcoming Gene, who still is leading the way for Hall of Fame running backs Bobby Mitchell, Leroy Kelly and Jim Brown.

 

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