By: Steve King, Contributor to ClevelandBrowns.com
Cleveland Clinic presents This Day in Browns History. If you call 1.800.274.2009, Cleveland Clinic will schedule an appointment for either the same day or the next day, including Saturdays. Call to learn more.
Feb. 15 marked the beginning for one great former Browns player, guard Gene Hickerson, and the end for another, safety Thom Darden.
It was on this date in 1935 that Hickerson, a Pro Football Hall of Famer whose 15-year career spanned three decades, was born in Trenton, Tenn.
A seventh-round pick by the Browns in the 1957 NFL Draft out of Mississippi, he played from 1958-60, sat out 1961 with a broken leg and then returned from 1962-73.
He blocked for three Hall-of-Famer running backs in Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell and Leroy Kelly, and during the induction ceremony in 2007 in Canton, Ohio when Hickerson, then extremely ill, went into the Hall, they pushed his wheelchair onto the stage at Fawcett Stadium in a memorable, emotional moment. HIckerson had helped get them where they wanted to go with his blocking for all those years, and now they were helping get him where he wanted to go.
Hickerson died just months later.
He grew up with Elvis Presley and remained friends with him into adulthood. Presley became a Browns fan because of Hickerson, who would send the rock and roll king films of the team’s games on a weekly basis.
On this date in 1982, Darden’s career came to an end when the Browns released him along with another defensive back, Autry Beamon.
Darden is still the team’s career leader with 45 interceptions in a nine-year career that lasted from 1972-74 and 1976-81. He sat out 1975 with a severe knee injury but returned in 1976 as if nothing had happened, getting a club-leading seven interceptions, just one less than he had had in 1974 when he also topped the Browns.
His best season statistically was 1978, when he led the NFL with 10 interceptions.
A Sandusky (Ohio) High School product, Darden played for Michigan and was Cleveland’s top draft pick in 1972.
Joining Hickerson as a Browns star born on this date is former wide receiver Brian Brennan (1962 in Bloomfield, Mich.). The Boston College product was a fourth-round draft pick of the Browns in 1984 and, in an eight-year career with them that lasted through 1991, he caught 315 passes, tying him with Kevin Johnson for fourth place in team history.
Possessing tremendous hands, quickness and an ability to find the open areas, Brennan had his best season in 1986 when he led the Browns in receiving with 55 receptions for 838 yards (a 15.2 yards-per-catch average) and six touchdowns.
His 48-yard scoring reception from Bernie Kosar with five minutes left in regulation was set to be the deciding score in the 1986 AFC Championship Game against Denver, putting the Browns ahead 20-13. But the Broncos eventually won 23-20 in overtime.
Another former Browns star born on this date, Feb. 15, is wide receiver/returner Walter Roberts (1942 in Texarkana, Texas). Nicknamed “The Flea” because he was just 5-foot-9 and 163 pounds, the San Jose State product began his career by playing with Cleveland for three years (1964-66).
Though he caught just 19 passes in his Browns career, five were for touchdowns, including five in 1965 as the club looked to fill the void left by the absence of Hall of Famer Paul Warfield due to injury.
But it was as a returner where Roberts really excelled, especially in 1964 and ’65, averaging 13.2 and then 9.0 yards per try on punts, and 27.5 and 27.4 on kickoffs.
Two other one-time Browns, guard Bob Whitlow (1936 in Shelbyville, Ind.) and running back George Swarn (1964 in Cincinnati), were born on Feb. 15.
Whitlow finished his eight-year NFL career by playing with the Browns in 1968.
A product of Mansfield (Ohio) Malabar High School and Miami of Ohio, Swarn played briefly with Cleveland in 1987.
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