From 1960 through 1972, all of the National Football League's great quarterbacks felt the sting of the St. Louis Cardinals' sterling free safety, Larry Wilson. If the league's passers weren't being smashed to the ground after a safety blitz, they were watching helplessly as Larry, far downfield, was picking off one of his 52 career interceptions.
It’s amazing now to ponder that this standout of the 1960s at one time had serious doubts if he would even make the team when he joined the Cardinals as their seventh-round draft choice in 1960. Wilson, a 6-0, 190-pound native of Rigby, Idaho, had been a two-way performer and a scoring leader at Utah but, in the NFL, he quickly found that offensive play was not for him. An early try at cornerback on defense also proved disastrous for the rookie. But in the final preseason game in 1960, Wilson got a chance to start at safety and he made the most of it.
Except when sidelined briefly by injuries, Wilson anchored the Cardinals defenses for the rest of his career. Contrary to popular belief, however, he did not invent the safety blitz, but he did capitalize on the maneuver to a degree not reached by any other pro player of the decade. It was, in reality, the abilities that he demonstrated every time he tried the safety blitz that first attracted the attention of the St. Louis coaching staff and assured Larry a place on the team.
Larry won first- or second-team all-league honors seven times during his career and played in eight Pro Bowls. He reached his zenith with interceptions in seven straight games in 1966, a year that he led the NFL with 10 steals. Wilson, during his Hall of Fame career, recorded 52 career interceptions for 800 yards and five touchdowns.