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Hall of Fame guard for Cleveland

October 21, 2008|Associated Press

Gene Hickerson, the Cleveland Browns Hall of Fame right guard whose blocking helped running backs Jim Brown, Leroy Kelly and Bobby Mitchell make the shrine, died Monday. He was 73.

Hall of Fame spokesman Joe Horrigan confirmed Hickerson's death. He said Hickerson's son, Bob, received a phone call from the care facility in Olmsted Falls, Ohio, where his father was staying Monday morning. The cause of death was not announced.

Hickerson was 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." When Hickerson was inducted into the hall in 2007, Brown, Kelly and Mitchell pushed Hickerson's wheelchair onto the stage in Fawcett Stadium.

"He was a great friend of mine, as well as a great protector of mine," Brown said in a statement released by the Browns. "He was a tremendous guard, a tremendous pulling guard, but also an outstanding individual.

"We all eventually leave this earth at some time, but I am so glad he was able to leave with his dignity and with the recognition from all of us -- his former teammates, the fans and writers -- who wanted him to go into the Hall of Fame after waiting so long for that honor."

Hickerson was born Feb. 15, 1935, in Trenton, Tenn. He was an outstanding fullback in high school but was moved to tackle at the University of Mississippi.

At 6 foot 3 and 248 pounds, Hickerson was small by today's NFL standards. A sixth-round draft pick, he used his superior speed and quickness to beat defensive linemen off the ball. Hickerson was voted to six straight Pro Bowls and was chosen for the league's All-Decade team of the 1960s.

The Browns never had a losing record during his 15 years with them.

However, after his retirement in 1973 at 38, Hickerson's achievements went mostly unrecognized for decades. He was overlooked for enshrinement in Canton, Ohio, an omission that bothered him greatly but one he never mentioned publicly.

Finally in 2007, he was elected for induction. By the time of the ceremony, Hickerson was in failing health and stricken with Alzheimer's disease.

Information on survivors was not immediately available.

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