Larry Wilson, 1938 - 2020
The football world today is mourning the loss of Larry Wilson, a longtime member of the Cardinals’ franchise as a player, coach and front office executive who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1978.
He was 82.
Born and raised in Rigby, Idaho, Wilson faced adversity from a young age. His mother lost her life when he was 10 years old, and his father was on the road as a truck driver for long stretches. So, Wilson worked at harvesting potatoes and helped raise his younger brother, John.
In high school, Wilson earned 16 varsity letters – competing in baseball, basketball, football and track, a sport in which he broke the state’s high jump record. He earned a scholarship to the University of Utah to play running back.
In 1959, Wilson led the Skyline Conference in scoring. Despite a standout career at Utah, he was considered too small (6-foot, 190 pounds) to play running back in the NFL, so he switched to defensive back, with the St. Louis Cardinals drafting him in the seventh round (74th overall).
After an attempt at cornerback in a preseason game that turned disastrous, the rookie found his home at safety. Many credit Wilson for writing several chapters in the book on how to play safety in the NFL. Although often miscredited with creating the safety blitz, he did execute it at a level many could not match.
His best year statistically came in 1966. He recorded a league-best 10 interceptions, two of which were taken back for touchdowns.
During his 13-year career, Wilson captured first team or second team all-league honors seven times, was selected to eight Pro Bowls, recorded 52 interceptions – returning five for touchdowns – and played in 169 games. Wilson is a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1960s (along with second team for the 1970s), as well as a member of the NFL100 All-Time Team.
Following his Hall of Fame career as a player, Wilson stayed with the Cardinals for three more decades. From 1973 to 1976, he served as the secondary coach and director of scouting. In 1977, he was named general manager. During the 1979 season, he stepped in as interim coach, posting a 2-1 record before returning to the front office as director of player personnel the next season. When the team moved to Phoenix in 1988, he took the title of vice president and general manager. Wilson was GM through the 1993 season and remained a VP until his retirement after the 2002 season.
Wilson’s legacy will be remembered forever and live on in Canton.
The following is a statement from Hall of Fame President & CEO David Baker:
“The Game lost a true legend with the passing of Pro Football Hall of Famer Larry Wilson. He was not only one of the greatest to ever play the game, but one of the nicest and kindest men I have ever met.
The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Larry. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Nancy, and their entire family. We will not only forever keep his legacy alive as a football player, but also for the great man he was. The Hall of Fame flag will fly at half-staff until he is laid to rest.”
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