OXFORD, Miss. – The Pro Football Hall of Fame bust of the late Gene Hickerson has found a permanent home at Ole Miss, thanks to his son, Bob Hickerson, and the Hickerson family.
Gene Hickerson, who played 15 seasons for the Cleveland Browns as the lead blocker for three Hall of Famers — Jim Brown, Leroy Kelly and Bobby Mitchell — was a member of the 2007 Pro Football Hall of Fame class when he joined tackle Frank M. “Bruiser” Kinard as the only players from Ole Miss to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio. Kinard was inducted in 1970.
The bust of Kinard, which was given to the University by the Kinard family, is on display in Hollingsworth-Manning Hall, the Ole Miss athletics memorabilia room located in the Michael S. Starnes Athletics Training Center on campus. Hickerson’s bust will be part of a special display honoring his accomplishments at both Ole Miss and Cleveland.
“We are honored to donate Gene’s Hall of Fame bust to Ole Miss,” said Bob Hickerson. “Gene always loved Ole Miss and had fond memories of his days while playing for Coach (John) Vaught. I know he would be pleased that he continues to be remembered as an Ole Miss Rebel.”
Quarterback Bobby Ray Franklin, a teammate of Hickerson at Ole Miss and then for seven years with the Cleveland Browns, presented Hickerson during the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.
“Gene really loved Coach Vaught and Ole Miss as well as anybody,” Franklin said of the man who became his best friend. “I didn’t know Gene until my freshman year at Ole Miss and he took care of me. In those days, the veteran players were pretty rough on the freshmen. We played two years together at Ole Miss and then those years with the Browns. In fact, we roomed together my rookie season in Cleveland.
“Gene was so much faster than the linemen and Coach Vaught made him run with the backs,” Franklin recalled. “It didn’t take Coach (Paul) Brown in Cleveland long to realize how important it was for Gene to pull on end run sweeps.”
When Hickerson passed away in 2008 after a lengthy illness, the Associated Press noted that he was Jim Brown’s personal bodyguard on the field, clearing the way for No. 32, who called Hickerson “the greatest downfield blocker in the history of pro football.”
“We are grateful that Bob Hickerson has chosen to donate Gene’s Pro Football Hall of Fame bust, which will allow us to perpetuate his memory through a display honoring his contributions to the history of Ole Miss Football,” said Langston Rogers, special assistant to the athletics director. “Gene took great pride in representing the University of Mississippi. Ole Miss was important to him.”
While earning three letters at Ole Miss, Hickerson was a co-captain in 1957 when he was a consensus All-Southeastern Conference and All-South choice. He helped lead the Rebels to the 1955 SEC title and a 1956 Cotton Bowl win over TCU, plus a victory over Texas in the 1958 Sugar Bowl. During his three varsity seasons, Ole Miss finished 10-1, 7-3 and 9-1-1.
Hickerson, who was voted to the All-Time Sugar Bowl Team and played in the Senior Bowl and the Chicago All-Star game, was chosen by the Ole Miss fans to the Team of the Century (1893 – 1992) in 1993. He was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1979 and the Ole Miss Sports Hall of Fame in 1988.
“In the summer of 1956, I met Gene Hickerson for the first time and immediately thought I would never play football at Ole Miss,” said former Chancellor Robert Khayat, who was a teammate of Hickerson during the 1956 and 1957 seasons. “He was the finest physical specimen I had seen and he had remarkable speed.
“His Hall of Fame career with the Cleveland Browns provides a full commentary on his extraordinary ability to play football. When he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, perhaps the greatest compliment was paid to him as Jim Brown, Leroy Kelly and Bobby Mitchell pushed his wheelchair onto the stage. They acknowledged that Gene’s ability to pull, run and block had made their success at Cleveland possible.”
Following his career at Ole Miss, Hickerson was drafted in the seventh round by the Browns and went on to play in the NFL from 1958 to 1973. A tailback in high school who became a tackle at the University of Mississippi, Hickerson was shifted to guard in 1958 and went from delivering plays to the huddle to establishing himself as a lead blocker for Brown, Mitchell and Kelly.
After just three NFL seasons, Hickerson’s career was slowed when he suffered a broken leg in the 1961 preseason opener. He sat out two games in 1962, but never missed another game for the remainder of his career. When he retired after the 1973 season, Hickerson had played in 202 NFL games.
He earned first-team All-NFL acclaim five straight seasons (1966-1970) and was voted to six consecutive Pro Bowls from 1966 to 1971. The Browns featured a 1,000-yard rusher in every season but one during Hickerson’s first 10 pro seasons. He received the NFL Outstanding Blocker Award in 1968. When the NFL, in conjunction with its 50th anniversary, named its All-Decade team of the 1960s, Hickerson was one of the all-star guards.
According to Total Football II, The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League, “Hickerson had a great combination of speed, power, durability and athletic ability. Few offensive linemen performed at the level and quality he did for so long a period of time.”
Born Feb. 15, 1935, in Trenton, Tenn., Hickerson played at Trezevant High, located just north of Jackson, Tenn., before joining Vaught’s Rebels at Ole Miss. — OleMissSports.com