The Arizona Cardinals have announced the passing of Hall of Fame safety and longtime team executive Larry Wilson. Wilson, who spent over 40 years with the organization, was 82 years old. Cardinals owner Michael Bidwell, in a statement issued by the team on Friday, said that, outside of his father, Wilson was "the most influential male figure in my life."
"The Game lost a true legend with the passing of Pro Football Hall of Famer Larry Wilson," Hall of Fame president David Baker said in a statement. "He was not only one of the greatest to ever play the game, but one of the nicest and kindest men I have ever met. The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Larry. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Nancy, and their entire family. We will not only forever keep his legacy alive as a football player, but also for the great man he was. The Hall of Fame flag will fly at half-staff until he is laid to rest."
Revered for his toughness on the football field, 6-foot, 190-pound Wilson played 13 years for the Cardinals. An eight-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro, Wilson retired with 52 interceptions and five interception returns for touchdowns. The NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 1966, Wilson, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1978. Last fall, he was named to the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.
"Larry Wilson might be the smallest guy in the top-100 that we have. Undersized, but as tough as they come," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Wilson after he was named to the all-time team. "He's really the guy that popularized the safety blitz. They would shoot him up there in the 'A' gaps, and he made some big plays there.
"A lot of interceptions. Played one game with casts on both hands and still intercepted a pass. Pound for pound, as tough of a football player as there was in the National Football League."
Wilson, whose No. 8 has been retired by the Cardinals, joined the Cardinals' coaching staff in 1973, serving as a defensive backs coach. He was also a member of the team's scouting department until 1988 when he was promoted to vice president and general manager. Wilson served as the team's vice president until 2002. Wilson is also a member of the Cardinals' Ring of Honor.
"He was someone who truly lived his faith and demonstrated it daily in the kindness he showed every single person he met," Bidwill said. "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."