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Gene Hickerson

Cleveland Browns Hall of Fame guard Gene Hickerson in 1970.  (AP Photo/NFL Photos)
Cleveland Browns Hall of Fame guard Gene Hickerson in 1970. (AP Photo/NFL Photos)

Gene Hickerson – Guard

When offensive guard Gene Hickerson was at long last inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007, Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell and Leroy Kelly accompanied him onto the stage. It was a breathtaking – and heartwarming – sight, and a fitting act, too, for after Hickerson helped pave the way for those three Browns runners to get into the Hall of Fame, it only made sense that they do the same for him. Hickerson, who played for the Browns for 15 years, from 1958-60 and then again from 1962-73 after sitting out 1961 with an injury, is not only one of the best, but also one of the most athletic, offensive linemen they've ever had. His speed and agility was a big factor in the Browns being so successful running on sweeps and pitchouts around end. Hickerson would dash out and block defenders on the edge, allowing the Hall of Famers to turn the corner and break into the clear, and many times he would sprint right along with them and make another block as far as 40 yards downfield. As such, he was one of the first linemen in NFL history to make blocks that far from the line of scrimmage, and the success the Browns running game enjoyed emphasized the importance of having athletic linemen. Thus, Hickerson helped to change the game.

Hickerson was part of the Browns star-laden 1957 draft. Brown was taken in the first round, and defensive lineman Henry Jordan, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Green Bay Packers, was a fifth-rounder. After finishing up his college eligibility in 1957, Hickerson joined the Browns the following year, spending his first three seasons as a messenger guard for head coach Paul Brown to send in plays. After breaking his leg twice in 1961, the second of which occurred while he was standing on the sideline in street clothes watching a game, he returned in 1962 in the messenger role and then settled in as the full-time starter at right guard a year later as Blanton Collier took over as head coach and abolished the messenger system. The Browns won the NFL championship the season after that, in 1964, beginning a six-year span in which they advanced to the NFL title game four times. Hickerson was selected All-NFL on five occasions and made it to six Pro Bowls. But despite those individual honors, the success of the Browns as a team when he played and the fact he blocked for three Hall of Famers, he had to wait 34 years following his retirement to get into the HOF. He was in failing health at the time, but the Hall of Fame manner in which he entered the stage that evening almost made it worth the wait.

– Steve King