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Arizona Cardinals legend Larry Wilson has passed away

The Arizona Cardinals Football Club today announced the passing of Hall of Fame safety and long-time team executive Larry Wilson on Thursday evening. He was 82.

Said Nancy Wilson, Larry’s wife of 40 years, “Larry Wilson was the kindest, most humble person that I will ever know. 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.”

“Besides my father, Larry Wilson was the most influential male figure in my life,” said Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill. “He was someone who truly lived his faith and demonstrated it daily in the kindness he showed every single person he met. Any of us lucky enough to be in his orbit – whether that was for a few minutes or four decades - was always better off from the experience. I will remember Larry Wilson first as a fantastic person but then obviously as one of the greatest players the National Football League has ever seen. It’s fitting that his passing coincides with the league’s 100th birthday because his toughness and the way he revolutionized his position make him one of our game’s most unforgettable figures. Whether on the field playing with casts on both hands or brightening the lives of every person he knew, Larry’s selflessness defined who he was and how we will all remember him.”

A legendary figure in NFL history, Wilson spent more than 43 years with the Cardinals organization. Some of those highlights:

  • A seventh-round selection in the 1960 Draft out of Utah, he played 13 seasons for the Cardinals
  • Earned eight Pro Bowl selections and was named first-team All-Pro five times
  • Was named to both the NFL’s 75th and 100th Anniversary teams
  • Enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1978
  • Held a variety of roles in the Cardinals front office from 1973-2002 including VP & General Manager from 1988-93
  • Inducted into the Cardinals Ring of Honor at State Farm Stadium in 2006, his #8 is one just five retired jersey numbers in franchise history

Wilson played in 169 games and his toughness and versatility as a player have come to define the safety position. During his career, he is credited with originating the safety blitz, a tactic that was originally named “Wildcat” after Wilson’s nickname.

To celebrate the NFL’s 100th season last year, Wilson was one of six safeties (Jack Christiansen, Ken Houston, Ronnie Lott, Emlen Tunnell, Ed Reed) selected to the NFL 100 All-Time team after previously being named to the All-NFL team in 1994 to commemorate the league’s 75th anniversary.

His 52 interceptions are a Cardinals franchise record as are his 800 career interception return yards. Wilson led the NFL with 10 interceptions in 1966, a year in which in established a franchise record with interceptions in seven straight games, which also is tied for the second-longest streak in NFL history.

Regarded as one of the toughest players in NFL history, Wilson once intercepted a pass in a 1965 game against the Steelers with casts on both hands to protect broken fingers. He returned the interception 35 yards for a TD, giving the Cardinals a 21-17 victory.

Following his playing days, Wilson embarked on a 30-year career as a team executive with the Cardinals. He worked as the team’s director of pro scouting (1973-76), director of pro personnel (1977-78) and also served as interim head coach for the final three games of the 1979 season, earning victories over the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants.

Wilson was appointed to Vice President and General Manager with the team during the Cardinals inaugural season in Arizona in 1988, a position he served through 1993. Wilson continued his role as the team’s Vice President until his retirement in 2003.

Larry Wilson was born on March 24, 1938 in Rigby, ID. He is survived by Nancy, his wife of 40 years, as well as daughter Christie, son Larry, Jr. and numerous grandchildren and one great-grandchild.