Larry Wilson, Who Made Safety an N.F.L. Threat, Dies at 82 - Press "Enter" to skip to content

Larry Wilson, Who Made Safety an N.F.L. Threat, Dies at 82

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Wilson intercepted a pass in a game in 1965 with casts on both hands to protect broken fingers. He returned the interception for a touchdown, helping the Cardinals beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 21-17.

At the Pro Bowl early in his career, Wilson went to shake hands with Y.A. Tittle, the Hall of Fame quarterback who was on the receiving end of more than a few of Wilson’s safety blitzes. “If I’d known you were this small,” Tittle told him, “I’d never have been that scared of you.”

Lawrence Frank Wilson was born on March 24, 1938, in Rigby, Idaho. His favorite sport growing up was basketball, but at the University of Utah, which he attended after graduating from Rigby High School in 1956, he was a two-way football player. On offense, he was both a receiving and running threat out of the backfield. But he was not drafted by the Cardinals until the seventh round because he was considered too small for his position.

After he retired from playing, Wilson worked in the Cardinals’ front office as director of pro scouting for four years and as director of pro personnel for two. He served as interim head coach for the final three games of the 1979 season.

When the Cardinals moved to Arizona in 1988, Wilson became vice president and general manager, positions he held until 1993. He then held various other titles before retiring from the team in 2003. His jersey number, 8, was retired in 2006.

He is survived by his wife, Nancy (Drew) Wilson; a daughter, Christie; a son, Larry Jr.; numerous grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.

If he was fierce on the field, Wilson was easygoing and humble off it. During his last visit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio — for the 2016 induction ceremony — Wilson and the other Hall of Famers in attendance lined up in their gold jackets. Wilson happened to be standing next to Jim Brown, one of the most fearsome running backs ever. Turning to Brown, he said, “Well, this is the closest I ever got to you.”


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