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RIGBY – Football fans across the country are mourning the death of Larry Wilson.
The Rigby native and NFL Hall-of-Famer, who played 13 seasons with the former St. Louis Cardinals and popularized the safety blitz, died last Thursday at his Scottsdale, Arizona home. He was 82. An official cause of death has not been released, but the New York Times reports he had been treated for cancer.
Wilson was honored with a moment of silence last week during Friday’s homecoming game at Rigby High School.
Generations of Rigby High School students have grown up hearing about Wilson. His reputation as an athlete was legendary and a photo of him is on display behind a glass door. The picture shows Wilson next to his fellow teammates, Dick Broulim, Noel Brizzee and Norman Jorgensen.
Broulim, who owns Broulim’s supermarket locations throughout eastern Idaho, remembers Wilson as a humble man who demonstrated superior ability as an athlete.
“He wasn’t a bragger. He just played ball and was a good family man,” Broulim tells EastIdahoNews.com.
Wilson’s mother died when he was 8 years old, and Broulim says Wilson and his dad, Frank, took care of Larry’s little brother, John.
Though Broulim and Wilson played numerous sports together, it was on the football field where the two had the most fun. As a defensive halfback and running back, Broulim says Wilson played his heart out at every game.
A picture of Wilson with his teammates at Rigby High School. The photo is on display at the high school to this day. | Courtesy Dick Broulim
The regional championship against Sugar City in 1956 is a game Broulim remembers particularly well.
“(Wilson) was injured during that game,” he says. “I don’t remember what the injury was, but he was hurt and it didn’t slow him down. We didn’t have state championships at that time, but we won that game. I think we were second in the state.”
Wilson went on to play for the University of Utah and became a seventh-round draft pick for the Cardinals in 1960.
A news release from the Arizona Cardinals, the state they now call home, indicates Wilson had 52 interceptions during his 13 seasons with the team, 10 of which occurred in 1966 when he was awarded NFL defensive player of the year.
“Wilson famously made an interception in 1965 with casts on both hands, there to protect broken fingers. The pick, returned 35 yards for a touchdown, helped the Cardinals beat the Steelers, 21-17,” the news release says.
After retiring as a player in 1972, Wilson continued to play a pivotal role with the franchise for the next 30 years in various executive positions. He started as a league scout and was the interim head coach in 1979.
In 1988, a decade after his entrance into the Hall of Fame, Wilson served as the team’s general manager for five years before becoming the vice president. He retired in 2003.
Wilson was named to the NFL’s all-time team last year during the league’s 100th season.
“He will always be revered for his unquestionable passion and his gifts to the game. He was a man you could easily admire,” former Cardinals General Manager Rod Graves says in a news release.
Broulim and his wife, Vonnie Lue, say they’ve kept in contact with Wilson over the years. One of the most recent encounters was when Wilson showed up at their 50-year high school reunion in Island Park.
Wilson returned to Rigby in 2012 to accept the “Hometown Hall of Famer” award.
“Being here today brings back such fond memories of growing up and playing football at Rigby High School,” Wilson is reported to have said at the time. “One of the main reasons that I am standing here and receiving this honor is because of the terrific coaching I received as a student-athlete here at Rigby, the same type of great coaching that still exists here today.”
Michelle Allgood Barber, a graduate of Rigby High School, says her dad was instrumental in naming the high school football field in Wilson’s honor. Wilson attended the dedication ceremony with his family in 1967 and his No. 7 jersey was retired as well.
Sometime in the early 1980s, Barber says Wilson’s name and jersey were removed.
Today, the football field at Harwood Elementary in Rigby is named in Wilson’s honor. There have been numerous unsuccessful attempts in recent years to get Larry Wilson’s name back on the high school football field, Barber says.
Despite Wilson’s long list of accomplishments, Broulim and his wife say they will remember him best as a great friend and they are “proud” to have known him.
Wilson leaves behind his wife, Nancy, of 40 years, his daughter Christie, son Larry Jr., numerous grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
“Larry Wilson was the kindest, most humble person that I will ever know,” Wilson’s wife, Nancy, said in a statement released through 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.”