I'm taking this opportunity to share with Cardinals fans my first (and all-time) football hero.
Larry 'Wildcat' Wilson, whose jersey number '8' has long since been retired by the Cardinals, was not only a first-ballot Hall Of Fame free safety, Larry was the only Cardinal elected to the NFL's All-75th Year Team.
Wilson was named First-Team All-Pro five times in his career and represented the Cardinals on eight Pro Bowl teams. During 1966, Larry had at least one interception in seven consecutive games, en route to a 10-pick season (14 games) that led the league - good enough to win the first-ever George S. Halas Trophy for Defensive Player of the Year.
Drafted as a late-round, undersized running back from Rigby, Idaho, Larry was asked to try his luck on defense, and soon became the leader of what would be described today as an outrageously aggressive defense, that in 1970 recorded three consecutive shutouts!.
Wilson is also credited as the 'innovator of the safety blitz'.
Not long after Wilson made the team, defensive coordinator Chuck Drulis crafted a play that called for the free safety to take part in a blitz. The play was code-named 'Wildcat', after Wilson's nickname. When the Cardinals first ran the safety blitz, the pressure was severe since teams did not expect a defensive back to take part in a pass rush. This single play also helped to set up today's defenses where a blitz can come from anywhere.
Fellow Idahoan Jerry Kramer, a guard for the Green Bay Packers and author of 'Instant Replay', called Wilson "the finest football player in the NFL". Kramer described Wilson's play during a 1967 game, "he fired up their whole team ... his enthusiasm was infectious."
Wilson is renowned for not only playing, but intercepting a pass, with casts on both hands due to broken wrists!
NFL Films President Steve Sabol stated: "Longfellow has a line in one of his poems, 'in life, you're either the anvil, or the hammer' - but Larry Wilson was both!" And, "The master of the safety blitz - there'll never be another one like him".
Wilson's 52 career interceptions (12 and 14 game seasons with no post-season appearances) are still the Cardinals all-time record. Just as impressive were his sack totals and tackles for losses. Unfortunately, in those days sacks were not recorded as statistics, but had they been, unquestionably Larry Wilson would be the all-time NFL leader in combined sacks-interceptions by a country mile.
Fellow Hall Of Famer Bobby Mitchell describes: "I never thought of Larry having great speed or great quickness - but he was always there! And after he got there - he'd hit you - HARD!"
Watching Larry go to battle with casts on both hands, not to mention sacrificing most his teeth during his career, NFL films has described Larry as "None Tougher" as well as 'Pro Football's Best Free Safety'.
Of course most of you never had the pleasure of seeing Larry play, but I'm sure today's Cardinal's fans would have taken to him like a duck takes to water. The ultimate ball-hawk, whether stuffing the run, sacking the quarterback, or intercepting a deep pass, it seemed number '8' would always be closing in to make a play.
Upon his retirement in 1972, Cardinals fans raised $80,000 to erect a statue of Larry outside Busch Stadium to stand beside Stan "The Man" Musial. Wilson humbly declined the honor and asked that the money be donated to the Children's Hospital of St. Louis. Five years later however, Larry Wilson had his likeness cast in bronze - at the Pro Football Hall Of Fame.
Take a few minutes to watch this documentary that any true Cardinals fan should enjoy and gain greater appreciation for number '8' on the Cardinal's Ring Of Honor.
The greatest Cardinal to ever snap on a chin-strap - Larry Wilson.
For more history of the Big Red, visit The St. Louis Football Cardinals