Passan: Time to Right a Wrong

New HOF inductee OT Rayfield Wright shows that Gene Hickerson has been ignored too long, and may show a fascination with Super Bowl appearances. At least that's the view of OBR columnist Rich Passan, who contrasts Hickerson's credentials with those of offensive linemen who have been admitted, including new inductee Rayfield Wright...


 

It's time for Gene Hickerson to get due recognition for his accomplishments as an offensive lineman in the National Football League.

It's time for Hickerson to finally be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Actually, it was time for the former Browns guard 27 years ago when he first became eligible for consideration. But after three straight cracks at the final 15 from 1980 to 1982, he was shunted aside. And forgotten.

The final straw was when offensive tackle Rayfield Wright was elected to the Hall of Fame a few weeks ago. Applause rained down from all across the National Football League landscape at the announcement.

Wright, a nominee of the influential Hall of Fame Seniors Committee, absolutely deserved his election based on a significant number of accomplishments. But he didn't deserve it any more than Hickerson.

Because he retired so long ago, Hickerson's only chance of being elected to the HOF now rests with a recommendation from the Seniors Committee.

What in the world does Hickerson, a mainstay at right guard for the Browns for 14 seasons, have to do to gain the attention of that committee? His credentials are every bit as impressive as Wright's were with the Dallas Cowboys.

Wright appeared in six straight Pro Bowl games. So did Hickerson. Wright played in eight championship games in 13 seasons. Hickerson, a five-time All-Pro, played in 12 post-season games and four championship games in 14 seasons.

Wright played in five Super Bowls. Hickerson played in . . . oh, so that's it. Hickerson never played in a Super Bowl.

Well, neither did fellow offensive linemen Dan Dierdorf, Joe DeLamielleure, Billy Shaw, Bob Brown and Mike Munchak and their busts reside in the Hall of Fame. What makes them so special?

Let's examine the facts more closely.

Dwight Stephenson, another Hall of Famer, was on the Miami Dolphins' roster for only eight seasons, but didn't start at center until the 11th game of his second season. So he played a little more than six seasons - a serious knee injury shortened his career - and yet he's a Hall of Famer. And he played in two Super Bowls. He was a great player, but six-plus seasons?

Munchak was a nine-time Pro Bowler, but never got close to a conference championship game with the Houston Oilers. Brown, who played in six Pro Bowls, never played in a title game in his 10 NFL seasons with three teams.

Dierdorf, a five-time All-Pro as an offensive tackle with the St. Louis Cardinals, was voted to six Pro Bowls in 13 seasons. Never played in a championship game. Neither did DeLamielleure, who went to six Pro Bowls.

Sure, they all have credentials, although I seriously question Shaw's election since he never played a game in the NFL, playing his entire career in the old American Football League.

I know, I know. It's called Pro Football Hall of Fame, not the NFL Hall of Fame. If that's the case, why not elect legends of the Canadian Football League to the Canton shrine?

So once again, what in the world does Hickerson have to do to gain the attention of the Seniors Committee to right a wrong?

How about this: He paved the way for the two greatest runners in Browns history, both of whom are in the Hall of Fame.

One of the endearing images of the great Browns era that saw Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly grind out chunks of yardage from 1957 to 1973 was big No. 66 out in front, leading the way for a good portion of that yardage.

Brown has been acknowledged by just about everyone as the greatest running back in the history of football. So can anyone explain why only one of the offensive linemen who blocked for him in his nine seasons in Cleveland is in the Hall of Fame? That would be Mike McCormack, Brown's right tackle for six seasons.

Hickerson, who played on the Browns' 1964 NFL championship team, was one of the best guards in all of football at pulling and shepherding the runner through a hole created by his devastating blocks. The 6-2, 260-pounder had uncommon speed and quickness for a man his size. His ability to pull and lead on sweeps became a staple in the Browns' playbook.

And his pass protection was nearly flawless. His strength and balance in that aspect of the game drew respect all around the NFL.

Hickerson, selected as a tackle out of Mississippi in the seventh round of the 1957 draft, spent his first two seasons learning the pro game, became a regular in 1959 - he missed the entire 1961 season with a broken leg - and was a fixture until his retirement in 1973.

In addition to the 1964 title team, Hickerson played on Browns teams that lost NFL championship games in 1968 and 1969.

If a Rayfield Wright can be recognized by the Seniors Committee for his accomplishments with the Cowboys back in the 1980s, then Hickerson certainly can't be too far behind.

So the next time the Seniors Committee meets to go consider nominees, it should strongly consider Gene Hickerson. As can plainly be seen, he's got the credentials.

It's time to get it right.

 

 

Rich Passan has had a long and varied career covering sports in Northeast Ohio. A long-time reporter and columnist of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Rich also spoke to fans frequently as host of a Cleveland AM radio post-game show. Rich recently retired from daily reporting and is living in Arizona, where he devours every scrap of information that comes his way about the Cleveland Browns.

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