Honor the Heroes of the Game, Preserve Its History, Promote Its Values & Celebrate Excellence Everywhere
"In a football game, you’ve only got 60 minutes to prove what kind of player you are. Forty-nine minutes aren’t enough. You’ve got to give 100% on every play.”
(Utah)...6'0'', 190...Larry Frank Wilson. . .Two-way star at Utah, 7th round draft pick, 1960. . . Cat-like defender, exceptional team leader. . . Became NFL's top free safety, made "safety blitz" famous. . . All-NFL six times. . . Played in eight Pro Bowl games. . .Had steals in seven straight games, led NFL interceptors, 1966. . .Once intercepted pass with both hands in casts. . . Had 52 career interceptions. . .Born March 24, 1938, in Rigby, Idaho ... Died September 17, 2020, at age of 82
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.
Larry Wilson Enshrinement Speech 1978
Presenter: Jack Curtice
Ladies and gentlemen, I would just like to take the privilege of making just one remark. I guess the highlight in my life in my athletic career is when Mr. Wilson invited me to be his presenter, but I never dreamt that I could come to a city ... in America and ride in a parade where the young, the old and the middle aged and everybody deep from building to sidewalk cheered as all of these fine players went by today and this committee and the job that they've done, I was so impressed and I am doubly thankful for getting to make this trip.
I would like to take Larry on a little trip and getting him here with us this afternoon, so we know a little bit about him, where he has been and what he has done as he has become along. He came from Rigby; Idaho and he was a three-sport star -all-state in all three sports. The field is named after him, Larry Wilson Field now and he is respected throughout the country and that area for the great job he is done. They brought him to the great University of Utah and through our good fortune, in spite of my coaching, I remember his first year which I might share with you a little bit, the University of Utah. He had to play offensive and defensive and to show you how perceptive I was in why he would want me to come and present him today, as we would work out in the fall, you know I got to studying this young man And you know, Larry in his great pass defensive work was a lot like some of the great outfielders. And you have seen them and I have seen them when they get the ball high in the air that disappears out into the ball zone, I guess you would say, they are running back and you think why don't they hurry they will never get there and always at the last second that glove goes out and there is the ball.
Well, Larry Wilson had all the grace and the poise and the speed and the agility and whatever it took and the great touch to be a great defensive football player in spite of my coaching. Because as we would have practice sometimes, on old boy whom I could out run, would break down the field on a forward pass which we were using in those day, believe it or not, and would break behind Larry and I would turn around and say '''Wilson ,what in the devil is the matter with you, letting that fellow break behind you and Larry would say, ''I'm sorry coach, but I'll not let the ball get back there.'' Well you know, it took almost nearly a year to be smart enough to realize that Larry didn't need my help. Many a receiver broke behind Larry Wilson, but I have yet to see a quarterback throw one behind him and that carried on into the professional league.
Larry Wilson at the University of Utah was all conference all three years. His senior year, under Coach Magel, I had gone to Stanford by then, where we had kind of cut down on their football - weren't feeling too strong in it, I helped them. But actually, Larry set the scoring record at the University of Utah his senior year with some 84 points after being out six weeks with about five broken ribs. The first game he returned which was against the University of Arizona where he scored five touchdowns and one safety for some 32 points in one game which still is a record at that University by anyone individual. When everyone thought of him as a fine offensive football player - he played in the East-West Game and was with the West team and he was part of the reason of the winning over the East in that particular year in 1959. He was then picked up at St. Louis Cardinals and he moved to St. Louis the same year that they did.
Well as you know, all of you who are sitting here with a great record he had. 10 record set in the Big Red’s history he said personally. he was invited to eight of the pro bowls and was all-pro for six years. He had all the attributes and all the leadership qualities and was selected as the captain of the defensive team. And I read in the book at one time where they said Larry wait 190 pounds and I would be willing to bet my life that if he ever got over 180, I would eat every pound and he was over that. He weighed about 300 inside. I think he was one of the hardest tacklers and one of the greatest defensive man per pound that I ever came across or saw operate as a coach.
And I want to take the privilege here with all of these things that I talked about, things that I know, but these are quotes from individuals I would like to give you very quickly that they gave to me. Bobby Layne, who everyone remembers as a pretty tough character himself said Wilson was the toughest of them all as a football player''. Pat Summerall, as you know is one of the fine announcers now, a noted sports follower had this to say that he was an opponent of Larry Wilson's and yet to me Larry typifies everything great you could possibly expect as a professional football player. His teammates praised Wilson for his professionalism, his consistency, his leadership by example and inspiration to his team, organization and coaches.
Now Larry was not always dedicated to football, he was dedicated to a lovely family. His wife, Dee Ann, his daughter, Christy, Larry Jr. & Jed four of the nicest people you will ever meet. She is proud of all of these honors he won along the road. Now in finishing, I have a little challenge for you, for this group seated out here today and I want to see what you think about it. The last game that Larry Wilson, they talk about standing up here, I could log this fellow for an hour and never have to tell you anything new, but I do want to finish with one thing I think you will always remember. After Larry's last game with the Big Red, the people of St. Louis as you know them, a fellow named Stan Mussel had some little standing in that community, in fact he had so much standing they built a big brown statue of him at one end of the stadium. After Larry’s game, the people of St. Louis met one night, and they raised some $80,000 to build a bronze statue at the other end of the stadium of Larry Wilson for his unique and great ability as a safety man one of the greatest in professional football at that field. But ladies and gentlemen, Larry Wilson would not let them take the money for a bronze statue though there had been a precedent set Larry said add two rooms to the children’s crippled hospital. I say to you sitting in the audience today wouldn’t you have wanted to try on that statue, I give you Larry Wilson.
Reverend Clergy, ladies and gentlemen. I think you can understand why I picked Mr. Curtice to be my spokesman today. I think one of the things that has happened to all of us as we have traveled around since we have been told we were going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame because everyone has always asked what does it mean to you. I think we have all fumbled and tried to express our feelings about what does the Hall of Fame mean to a person.
I would kind of like to explain to you today right quickly the meaning is simply a person like Mr. Curtice. The ability to have him come back and share a little bit of time with the people who are a big part of the Hall of Fame. To let you see what a tremendous person he is. Being selected is also a gratifying experience to be with four other men like I have shared time with this week and down in Tampa. I congratulate them very, very much and they are well deserving people.
Being inducted into the Hall of Fame is very meaningful to all of us and it is a point of time where we can all share our joys with different people. All of us look back to our families first of all and say hey thank you for standing behind us, for fighting, for loving, and for sharing the time that you did with us. I too would like to do that. Jack mentioned my wife Dee Ann, Larry Jr., Christy and Jed. I really think in my lifetime of playing football I gained from them their determination & desires, which is what made me, what I was out on the football field. All you had to do was turn around and look at them and they said go get them. And I appreciate it very, very much.
I wish that my family were here. I had a great dad. If he had been here, you would have heard him. He'd been cussing by now and we would have all heard him. But I would like to thank him because I have never been associated with an individual that really meant so much to any one person. I was almost going to tell you what he would say if he was here, but sure I'd bore you of that.
I would also like to thank the Cardinals football organization. I was one of the fortunate people who played 13 years for one club. I am so involved with them. I would like to thank Mr. Bill Bidwill and the whole Cardinals organization for that opportunity.
So, you great fans of Canton and Ohio, I would also like to thank you very much for the great welcome you had in today's parade. You know Saint Louis is a unique town and we have unique people and there are many of those people here with us today and I would just like to thank you VERY very much for sharing this with me and thank you for coming here.
And what does it mean to be inducted into the Hall of Fame is to mean that I should say to you that that was the most important thing to me when I was playing football. I had fun, I enjoyed it, I always liked Ray Nitschke-I liked to hit people- I enjoyed it. I feel that one thing about football today that every youngster whoever competes in it has got to go out and enjoy himself while he is there. It can be a drudgery, but I would just hope and pray that each one of your sons will have the same opportunity that I have had, to compete in football and to have fun.
And I would say to you that this is a great game, this is the epitome of what everyone of us played for to be standing in front of the shrine and to be honored with a statue and with a picture saying that you are one of the best. I'll say to you that this is a great game. We all find fault in it. We argue about the salaries that we are paid; we argue about the rules changing. I'll say to you be positive. This is number one, this is the number one game today, pro football and we are going to have the opportunity to see two great teams play this afternoon.
I thank all of you for this opportunity. I thank the sports Hall of Fame and to say what it really means to me; it is the single most important thing that has happened to me in football and I thank you very much.