Detroit Lions fans recall Yale Lary in many different ways. Some remember him as a superb right safety, a key cog in Detroit's fearsome defensive platoon in the 1950s and 1960s. Others will tell you he was one of history's truly great punters. Still others say it was his breakaway ability on punt returns that set him apart from all the rest.
In reality, each assessment is correct because the multi-talented Texas A&M product did all of those things superbly well during his 11 years with the Lions. There is no question that Yale's defensive play was exceptional. A fixture at right safety throughout his career, he was named to the All-NFL team five times and played in nine Pro Bowls. His career mark showed 50 interceptions and he might well have had many more had not opposition quarterbacks avoided throwing in his area.
Still those who remember Lary as a superb punter have plenty of reason to do so. His career average of 44.3 yards on 503 punts places him among the best ever. He won three NFL punting titles and missed a fourth by a razor-thin margin. "Kicking from the end zone, Yale invariably put the ball across midfield with enough hang time to let us cover the kick," team captain and Hall of Fame linebacker Joe Schmidt recalled. "He made our defense look good because he always gave us room to work."
While Lary's outstanding exploits might be remembered in different ways, all who saw him play undoubtedly would agree that he was a rare find, the kind that comes along only once in a generation. Comparatively small at 5-11 and 185 pounds but armed with a big heart and great ability, he did much to make the Lions a championship team.
Robert Yale Lary
November 24, 1930
Fort Worth, Texas
North Side (Fort Worth, Texas)
Elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame:
January 20, 1979
Enshrined into Pro Football Hall of Fame:
July 28, 1979
Buster Ramsey, defensive coach with Lions
Other Members of Class of 1979: Dick Butkus
, Ron Mix
, Johnny Unitas
11 seasons, 133 games
3rd round (34th overall) in 1952 by Detroit Lions