Yale Lary, 1930-2017
Correction: The original story stated that Lary passed away in the early hours of Friday morning. He died on Thursday, May 11, 2017.
Pro Football Hall of Fame safety Yale Lary passed away on Thursday night at the age of 86. The Texas A&M product was a fixture in the Detroit Lions secondary during an 11-year career (1952-53, 1956-1964) that was interrupted by his service in the U.S. Army.
Pro Football Hall of Fame President & CEO David Baker made the following statement regarding Lary’s passing.
“Yale Lary was a true American hero. He was defined by his heart and character that made him one of the game’s greatest players. Yale led by example and raised the level of all his teammates that resulted in multiple league titles for the Detroit Lions. Those same traits were on display during his service to our country as a member of the United States Army.
Yale Lary lived a life of character that will serve as great inspiration to generations of fans. His legacy will forever be celebrated at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.”
Detroit Lions Owner and Chairman Martha Firestone Ford on the passing of Yale Lary:
“On behalf of my family and The Detroit Lions, I would like to extend my deepest, personal sympathies to Mary Jane and to his children Yale, Jr. and Nancy Jane on the passing of Yale.
“As his Hall of Fame career indicates, Yale truly was one of our all-time great players and one of the greatest of his generation. As good as he was on the field, he also was a genuinely wonderful person, one whose company and friendship Mr. Ford and I greatly cherished.”
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. Lary played in the defensive backfield alongside Jack Christiansen and Jim David on "Chris' Crew," then stabilized Detroit defenses in the early 1960s when the Lions were one of the best pro football teams of that era.
Lary’s career mark showed 50 interceptions and he might well have had many more had not opposition quarterbacks avoided throwing in his area. Until recently, he ranked in the Top 20 in all-time interceptions.
From 1960-1964, Lary (S), Dick LeBeau (CB), and Dick Lane (CB) played in the same defensive backfield together for the Detroit Lions. They are one of only two defensive backfields that consisted of three future Hall of Famers. The other was the 1961 Green Bay Packers which featured Herb Adderley (CB), Emlen Tunnell (S), and Willie Wood (S).
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 (1959, 1961 and 1963) 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.
The former Lions DB was selected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1950s enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979.
After his football career, Lary ventured into politics. He served two terms in the Texas legislature. He also owned a car dealership in Fort Worth, Texas with his lifelong friend.
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