Gene Hickerson enshrinement speech transcript
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.
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BOBBY FRANKLIN: 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: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 Jakubowski. 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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