This Hall of Fame guard is the best to wear No. 66 for the Cleveland Browns
The Countdown to the 2020 NFL season is upon us. With 66 days remaining until the Browns season opener, we continue the countdown by celebrating the best Cleveland Browns player to ever wear number 66: Gene Hickerson.
Gene Hickerson was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the seventh round of the 1957 NFL draft as a future choice designation before his senior season at the University of Mississippi. Hickerson was a standout fullback in high school who was converted to offensive tackle while at Mississippi. Browns head coach Paul Brown, envisioned Hickerson as a perfect guard candidate for his offensive line.
When Hickerson arrived at Hiram College in northeast Ohio for training camp in 1958, Brown saw exactly what he expected to see. Hickerson was an athletic big man who played with excellent leverage and quick feet. Those quick feet would come in handy, as Brown planned to use Hickerson as one of his ‘messenger guards’ along with Chuck Noll.
After the NFL commissioner, then Bert Bell, outlawed the use of Brown’s sideline to helmet radio communication with his quarterback in 1956, Brown went back to his use of ‘messenger guards’. Brown would rotate Hickerson and Noll every snap sending the play into the huddle with them. While this may have caused a bit of friction between the Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham and Brown, the effectiveness of this method could not be denied.
Hickerson thrived as an offensive guard, as did the running game when he was on the field. His ability to pull and lead the runners, then Jim Brown and Bobby Mitchell, into the outside gap was a thing of beauty.
Unfortunately, Hickerson suffered a broken leg during the preseason in 1961 and missed the entire season. He actually endured a second fracture to the his leg while standing on the sidelines watching a game that same season. Given how important mobility was to Hickerson’s game, this could have proven to be a career threatening injury.
However, the injury proved to just be a hiccup in Hickerson’s career. After sitting out for two games in 1962, Hickerson would not miss another game for the remainder of his career. That is no small feat considering that meant he went 12 straight years without missing a game.
Hickerson went on to play the best football of his career after the injury. From 1965 to to 1970, Hickerson earned six-straight Pro Bowl nominations. Hickerson also earned five All-NFL selections during that time span, with three of those being of the first-team variety.
It is impossible for Browns fans during the 1960’s to not envision number 66 pulling around the edge and escorting Leroy Kelly into the open field. Hickerson was truly one of the most dominant guards of his era and he has the accolades to prove it.
Hickerson was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007. In addition, Hickerson, a key member of the 1964 NFL Championship team, was named to the NFL 1960’s All-Decade Team. The Browns honored Hickerson by placing him in their Ring Of Honor and the Browns Legends Program. Hickerson passed away in 2008 and the Browns honored him by placing a GH patch on their jerseys for the 2008 season.
Gene Hickerson is truly one of the great Cleveland Browns off all-time and is undoubtedly the best to ever wear number 66 for the franchise.