HiLevel Performance Performers share a profile that is characterized by an abundance of gratitude, excitement and devotion.
Swede was grateful for every challenge he ever faced. He was always clear of his intention. He worked and played hard with a passion and joy. He modeled the essence of team. To be his teammate was a privilege and honor.
Harold “Swede” Ericksen was an outstanding football player back in the heyday of Georgia Tech Football. Swede was from Biloxi, Mississippi and proud of it. During his senior year in high school, he was voted the number one lineman in the state of Mississippi
Swede passed away in 2019 at 78 years of age.
I’m writing this tribute to Swede out of my complete gratitude and love for him as a friend, player and soldier. I have enlisted a core group of fellow teammates: Chick Graning, Tom Winningder, Bill Curry and Steve Copeland to give me their added insight.
Swede was a great friend to me. I played behind him as a freshman in my first Spring Game at Ga Tech. On the day before the game, Swede was in a lab and missed a portion of the media day. I filled in and was interviewed as the starter for the white team. When Swede came to practice, I told him I felt bad they had referred to me as the starter and did not mention him. Swede grabbed my arm and said, “Look here, you deserve it; you have had a great spring.” For the next 60 plus years, Swede was there for me. Whenever I doubted myself, somehow he knew it and he would reach out to me with that very special level of concern, acceptance and love.
Tom talks about the first time he met Swede. “I was on my recruiting visit and when I met Swede I was extremely impressed by his presence. His eyes were captivating! He looked at me with so much focus and compassion, I have never forgotten it. Swede had the capacity to let you know that he cared and that he was really paying attention in that moment. It was a very special introduction to an amazing person. Thank you Swede!”
Bill adds that his first real encounter with Swede was in a Cherokee Rose annual celebration. Bill had played ten years in the NFL and had known several important coaches, celebrities and people. And, yet when Swede made an eﬀort to get know Bill, in his words, “I was thrilled!” Bill continued, “Swede seemed bigger than life, he was inscrutable and I’m forever indebted for his kindness and special interest in me. Swede was special gift to us all”
I was a freshman when Swede was a senior, so I didn’t get the privilege of playing with him. I did hear all the stories about what a great player and competitor he was. It became evident as I watched him play and I would think, how can he do all the things he does. Swede didn’t look the part with his small pot belly and his big turned out feet, but when I saw the way he ran and hit, I understood. The Army team Swede, Billy Williamson, Carlton Waskey and Pat Dye were on the team that won the army championship.
Swede was absolutely the toughest player I ever saw play the game. He never taped his ankles. He was never injured or missed a game or practice. He was country strong, made strong by hard work. He never lifted weights. Instead, his strength came from deep down in his spirit. I simply loved to watch him play, and, I always marveled at how he maintained such an incredible level of intensity.
Chick shared a remembrance of what a great player Swede was. “During the summer before Swede’s senior season, Coach Inman traveled to Biloxi to inform Swede and his parents that the coaching staﬀ had decided to move Rufus ahead of Swede on the depth chart. Mr and Mrs Ericson were very polite and thanked Coach Inman for his kindness. After he had left, Swedes father stated that that would be a huge insult to the family and that Swede should not let this happen.”
Swede returned to the campus and informed Coach Dodd that he knew that Rufus was good player and that he understood that they were planning to play Rufus ahead of him. Swede respectfully asked Coach Dodd to give him a chance to to compete for the starting position. In Swede’s words, “Let us go one one, 10 plays on defense and 10 plays on offense. If Rufus wins, I will support him to the end. If I win, I will start.” Coach Dood agreed.
In short, the competition was one sided. Swede won all of the 20 plays, and was named to start! In fairness, the next year Rufus was a consensus, first team All–American. But he never moved ahead of Swede.
Swede loved his friends, his family, his men (the soldiers that were under his command in Viet Nam) and he really loved his country.
On his R&R from Viet Nam, Swede came to see Elise and me. Swede wanted to swim out and watch me surf on the North Shore, which he did, without any concern for his safety in the surf or strong currents. Elise and I remember fondly having dinner with Swede and Judith. At one point in his career he opted for a third tour of duty, which pushed Judith to a breaking point. I remember clearly Swede telling me that there was no way he could leave his men behind enemy lines. While he made it through, many of his men did not.
At the end of his military service, Swede received the treatment reserved for a hero in a brutal war: 4 Silver Stars, 4 Bronze Stars and 4 Purple Hearts.
To this end, Steve Copeland said it best. “As with Bill, I really got to know Swede during our years together at the Cherokee Rose gatherings. My admiration for him grew ten fold As a great athlete, soldier for sure, but what an incredible person he was in every way. There’s no doubt the world would be a much better place if we had more Swedes.”
At the end of Swede’s life, he had to battle a serious infection that eventually resulted in the amputation of his leg, which was not enough to force Swede to give up his work in the prisons. (For years Swede took it upon himself to volunteer to work with inmates to find peace and forgiveness in their lives) or for him to stop taking his long walks that he termed, “necessary for my prayer work.”
As the team of physicians began to lose the battle with the infection, they suggested a possible solution. Swede was informed that the procedure in question was risky, so much so that it could be fatal. Swede, as we would expect, had the clarity of focus to think of others, the trust to believe in the procedure and the mental strength to respond with courage and live his truth.
Swede’s response was, “If performing this procedure will help you to help others in my situation, please move forward with the procedure.” And so it was, our friend, the player and the soldier finished life on his terms.
Mark Ericksen, Swede's son
Thanks to you and and your teammates for honoring and remembering my father in this way. He loved my mother, Judith, my brother Bradly and me completely.
“Keep on Keeping on,” he would always say. He instilled in us the feeling that we were never victims of anything and that there was never a problem too big that could not be overcome.
We are proud that he made such a positive impact on so many people’s lives. He strived each day to become a better man and we work to live up to his standards.
Swede, we love you, we treasure your memory and all that you did for us, so many others and our country.