Clemson legend and Ring of Honor member Fred Cone passed away early on the morning of Friday, Dec. 31 at the age of 95. Cone had suffered a broken hip on Dec. 16 and had survived surgery to correct the injury, but complications from the surgery kept him in Prisma Health Oconee Memorial Hospital in Seneca, S.C. until his passing.
Cone watched with great joy Clemson’s win over Iowa State in the Cheez-It Bowl from his hospital room on Wednesday evening. Cone was an avid supporter of the Clemson football program and attended games and practices in recent years.
“I am sad to hear of the passing of Fred Cone,” said Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney when he learned of the news on Friday morning. “He is a true football legend and one of the kindest men I have met.
“He lived an amazing life and I know will be missed by many. I am thankful that I was blessed to know him and hear him tell stories of his past Clemson and NFL days. He was truly a special man. May he rest in peace.”
Cone’s matriculation to Clemson is one of the most unusual stories in the school’s athletic lore. He never played high school football when he was growing up in Pineapple, Ala. because there weren’t enough boys in his high school to field a team.
Cone served the United States in WWII in the Pacific Theatre before enrolling at Clemson in 1947.
In the summer of 1947, Clemson Head Coach Frank Howard received a call from his sister Hazel in Alabama. “I have a football player for you, brother, but he has never played football,” Hazel told him. Howard had one blank space on his scholarship list that he needed to submit to the registrar the next day. Without meeting him, Howard wrote the name Fred Cone on the sheet and the history of Clemson football changed forever.
Later Hazel said she had seen Cone dive off the diving board of a neighbor’s pool. “He looked like a good athlete diving in that pool,” she said.
Because of the NCAA rules at the time, Cone had to sit out the 1947 season playing on the freshman team, then became a starting running back on Clemson’s 1948 team that posted a perfect 11-0 record and No. 11 final AP ranking, at the time the highest in Clemson history.
Two years later, Cone was the top player on the 1950 Clemson team that finished 9-0-1 with the school’s first top 10 final ranking in the AP Poll. Cone had 845 yards rushing and 15 total touchdowns on the way to making first-team All-Southern Conference honors. He was also the winner of the Teague Award as the top amateur athlete in the state of South Carolina.
Cone became the first 2,000-yard rusher in Clemson history (2,183) and finished with 31 touchdowns in his 31 career games, which also matched his uniform number. Cone and fellow running back Ray Mathews are still the only players in Clemson history to start on two undefeated teams.
Cone will always be remembered for his performance against Missouri in the 1948 Gator Bowl when he scored a pair of touchdowns. On a fourth-and-three play in the final minutes at the Missouri 41, Howard gave the ball to Cone, who broke a tackle and picked up six yards and a first down. Clemson ran out the clock to win 24-23 and secure the perfect season.
Howard called that the most memorable play of his 30 years as head coach and later called Cone his best player.
Cone was the 27th pick of the 1951 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers, a selection that would be a first-round selection by today’s standards. He played as a running back and kicker for the Packers from 1951-57 and later played for the Dallas Cowboys in 1960. He led the NFL in made field goals in 1955, the first former Clemson player to lead the NFL in any statistical category. He finished his career with 1,156 rushing yards, 852 receiving yards and 2,008 yards from scrimmage. He kicked 59 field goals and 221 extra points in his 94 career games.
Cone was a charter member of the Clemson Hall of Fame in 1973, was named to the state of South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame in 1973, was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1974, was named to the Clemson 100-Year Anniversary team in 1996, and was inducted into the Clemson Ring of Honor in 1997.
Cone returned to Clemson after his playing career and began a long career in athletic administration at Clemson in 1961 as the chief recruiter on Frank Howard’s coaching staff.
Prior to his death Friday, Cone was the oldest living Clemson football letterman and was believed to be the oldest living former Green Bay Packer.
Fred was preceded in death by brothers Loui Pharr Cone, Jr., Mickey Cone, sisters Margaret Rambo and Carolyn Fuller. Surviving is a sister, Alaire Sissell of Hiawassee, Ga.
He is survived by Judy, his loving wife of 67 years. Also surviving are children Jeff Cone of Atlanta, Ga., Andy Cone of Pickens, S.C., Amy Cone of Six Mile, S.C., Tom Pecarina (Pat) of Virginia, Minn.; grandchildren Andy Coppes, Hart Ray (Claire), Janna Cone, Bart Cone (Emily), Angela Pecarina and great-grandchildren Kipton and Hayes Cone and Josie Holder. Nieces and nephews include Sonny and Mac Cone; Scott, Todd and Mary Neal Cone; Buddy, Martha, Bill and Mike Rambo; Sherri, Faye and Ikey Fuller and Donnie Britt.
A private family committal service will be held at a later date at Woodland Cemetery at Clemson University. Fond memories and expressions of sympathy for the Cone family may be shared at www.DillardFunerals.com or by email at email@example.com.
–Release and photo courtesy of Clemson Athletics
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