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Gene Hickerson paid his dues before he thrived with Browns


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.

A few years after his retirement Hickerson was Inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1979 and the Ole Miss Sports Hall of Fame in 1988.

After a long wait, Hickerson finally joined his former teammates in an elite group when he was Enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007. A year later he passed away.

The Browns added a "GH" sticker decal to their helmets for the 2008 season and later inducted him into their Ring of Honor to pay tribute to his life and career.

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