PRINCESS ANNE — Former University of Maryland Eastern Shore football standout and Hawks Hall of Famer Gerald Irons passed away on April 1, 2021, at the age of 73, due to complications of Parkinson’s Disease, according to the Irons family.
Irons played 10 seasons in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns before transitioning into a successful business and philanthropic career in The Woodlands — a master planned community in the Houston area of Montgomery County, Texas.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Gerald’s wife Myrna and the rest of the Irons family during this difficult time,” Hawks Director of Athletics Keith Davidson said. “Gerald was a true Hawk. He was proud to have played here, to have worn the maroon and grey and proud to be a member of our hall of fame. I consider it a personal treasure that I was able to call him a friend.
“His commitment to education shone throughout his life. He carried the banner high for our university and he organized many activities in the Houston area promoting UMES and other HBCUs as an option for youth.”
Irons was born in Gary, Indiana where his family said he showed an early penchant for leadership and service.
During his time with the Hawks at then Maryland State College, he was Student Government Vice President, Captain of the Football Team, and a member of Fellowship of Christian Athletes and was a proud member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.
For the Hawks, Irons played both offensive guard and defensive end and even appeared on special teams — basically never leaving the field.
A third-round draft pick (76th overall) out of Maryland-Eastern Shore in 1970, Irons played in 77 games with 56 starts for the Raiders from 1970-75. In Cleveland, he was voted team captain by his teammates. There he played 58 games starting 42. Irons recorded 13 interceptions in 10 total seasons as a linebacker with the Raiders and Browns. His son, Grant, also later played for the Silver and Black.
In 1984, Irons was named to the Hawks Hall of Fame and he was inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame in 2013. He was named an “Oakland Raiders Legend” by the organization and has been listed among the 100 Greatest Cleveland Browns.
During his time with the Raiders, Irons completed his Master’s in Business Administration at the University of Chicago. He went on to attend John Marshall Law School while playing in Cleveland.
“He was the epitome of a scholar athlete,” Davidson said. “When he was drafted by the Raiders as a student at Maryland State, he missed the first part of training camp to graduate because he had vowed to one of his business professors that he would finish the course and his degree.
“In the last few years, he made an effort to return to campus. We had started to lay the groundwork for some future projects and I know he had some fantastic ideas of reconnecting to campus and making a larger Impact here.”
After retiring from football, he moved his family to Texas and became a fixture in the community. He worked 32 years with The Woodlands Development Company, a division of the Howard Hughes Corporation. As the Vice President of Business Development, Irons led the relocations of hundreds of companies to the 30,000 acre community.
He was a sought after motivational speaker, a graduate of the Houston FBI’s Citizens Academy, a community board member of the Texas Children’s Hospital and Memorial Hermann Hospital. He was also an Elder and founding member of Impact Church.
Irons also served 22 years on the board of the Conroe Independent School District and in 2012 was honored with a namesake junior high school. He was the first NFL player to have a school named in his honor.
“After retirement, there was nothing Gerald enjoyed more than spending time at Gerald D. Irons Sr. Junior High School motivating students to be themselves,” The family said in a Facebook statement on his passing.
Their experiences at the school, led Gerald and his wife to share their story in a motivational book “When Preparation Meets Opportunity.”
Irons is survived by Myrna, his wife of 50 years; sons, Gerald Jr., Jarrett and Grant; grandson, Gerald Irons III and granddaughters, Bella and Zoe.
— Shawn Yonker is Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing and Media Relations at UMES.