Wilson played all 13 of his NFL seasons for the Cardinals organization and was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1966. He made the safety blitz popular and worked as the team’s general manager and vice president after his playing days.
Wilson drafted as halfback, became HOF safety
Wilson was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1960 as the 74th overall pick. The 6-foot, 190-pound Wilson was taken as a halfback, but was worried about getting cut and switched to safety before the final preseason game.
Over his career he had at least two interceptions every season and brought in a career-high 10 over 14 games in 1966. He finished with 52 interceptions, five first-team All-Pro nods and a second-team All-Pro selection. He made eight Pro Bowls.
His most notable interception came in 1965 against the Pittsburgh Steelers when he picked off a pass with casts on both hands due to broken fingers and returned it 25 yards for the score. The 1960s casts were much bulkier than those of today.
There are no sacks on his record because the league did not keep those stats at the time.
Wilson didn’t invent the safety blitz, but how he performed in the role made it widely popular. When opponents had little trouble blocking blitzing Cardinals linebackers, assistant coach Chuck Drulis blitzed Wilson from the free safety spot.
They called the safety blitz the “Wildcat.”
“It turned out to be a lot of fun,” Wilson said. “Of course, today they blitz everyone.”
In 1978 he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and his No. 8 jersey is one of only five numbers retired by the Cardinals. He was named to the NFL’s all-time team last year for the celebration of the league’s 100th season.
Wilson joined front office for 30 years
Wilson retired in 1972 but stayed close to the game. He worked as a coach — including as interim head coach at the end of 1979 season — director of pro personnel, general manager and vice president. Wilson retired in the VP role in 2003.
Cardinals owner Michael Bidwell said in a statement that Wilson was “the most influential male figure in my life” aside from Bidwell’s father, who died last autumn.
Cardinals Owner Michael Bidwill on the passing of Larry Wilson: pic.twitter.com/iYhnAaNxrk
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) September 18, 2020
Wilson leaves behind his wife of 40 years, Nancy. She called him the “kindest, most humble person that I will ever know” in a statement released by the Cardinals.
“To most, he was this ferocious and fierce football player who some described as pound for pound the toughest player of his generation. To me, he was the most generous and gentle soul you would ever meet. For Larry, it was always about everyone else and what he could do for them. And especially in the times we live, that's something that that we could use more of today.”
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