|Cone during his days with the Green Bay Packers.|
Today – June 21 – marks the 91st birthday of Pine Apple native Fred Cone, one of America’s oldest living professional football players.
Cone, who was born in Pine Apple on June 21, 1926, is arguably one of Wilcox County’s most accomplished athletes. Cone attended Moore Academy in Pine Apple and went on to serve with the Army’s 11th Airborne Division during World War II. After the war, he tried out for the football team at Auburn, but an ankle injury prevented him from making the team.
Cone didn’t give up his football dreams however and later made it onto the team at Clemson, where he starred as a fullback during the 1948, 1949 and 1950 seasons. Thanks in large part to Cone, Clemson went undefeated in 1948 and 1950, and Cone finished his college career with 31 touchdowns and eight 100-yard rushing games. Years later, Cone would be inducted into Clemson’s Ring of Honor, the Clemson Athletic Hall of Fame and the State of South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame.
According to Clemson’s Athletics Department, Cone was the first player in Clemson history to rush for at least 2,000 yards in a career. As of 1997, the year Cone was inducted into the Ring of Honor, Cone was fifth on the Clemson career list for rushing touchdowns with 30. He was also a starter on two undefeated teams, one of only two players in Clemson history to have accomplished that feat.
On Jan. 18, 1951, Cone became the 27th overall pick in the 1951 NFL Draft when he was selected in the third round by the Green Bay Packers. Cone played fullback and placekicker for the Packers, and on Sept. 29, 1957 he actually played in the first ever game at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, a 21-17 win over their rivals, the Chicago Bears. Cone was one of Green Bay’s best players during his seven seasons with the team, and he was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1973.
The 1957 season was Cone’s last with the Packers and from there he went on to serve as the head football coach at UMS-Wright in Mobile for one season, 1959. Despite having been out of pro football for at least two years, he signed with a brand new team called the Dallas Cowboys as a free agent on May 12, 1960. Dallas fielded its very first team during the 1960 season, and Cone was the team’s first starting placekicker as well as a reserve fullback. The 1960 season was also Cone’s last in the NFL, a professional career that included appearances in 94 total games. To date, he is one of the oldest living professional football players in America.
In the end, as best that I could determine in preparing for this column, Cone and his wife of over 60 years, Judy, are still happily married and live together in Pickens, S.C., a small town of about 3,100 residents that’s about a half-hour drive from Clemson. I’m not sure if this column will reach Cone at his South Carolina home, but if so, The Progressive Era would like to wish him a “Happy Birthday” and many, many more.