SALT LAKE CITY — Larry Wilson, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1978 after a standout career at the University of Utah and in the NFL, passed away Thursday at the age of 82, the school announced.
Wilson, a native of Rigby, Idaho, was a two-way player at Utah from 1957-59, earning All-America honors in 1959 as a running back for the Utes. He finished his Utah career with 230 carries for 1,220 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns and was also a kick returner for the Utes.
Wilson was inducted into the Crimson Club Hall of Fame in 1985.
“We are saddened to learn of the passing of Larry Wilson,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said in a statement. “He was an All-American as a two-way starter, and the first player from the University of Utah to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We mourn with his family and friends, and the entire Utah Football family.”
Wilson was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals (now in Arizona) as a halfback in the seventh round of the 1960 draft. He switched over to defense, where he played 13 seasons at safety. The 6-foot, 190-pounder earned six All-Pro NFL citations (five times as first-team All-Pro) and eight Pro Bowl invitations and recorded 52 career interceptions and 800 return yards.
“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.” — Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill, on Larry Wilson
His best statistical season came in 1966, when he led the NFL with 10 interceptions, two of which Wilson returned for touchdowns. He had at least one interception in seven straight games that year and earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors.
“He was someone who truly lived his faith and demonstrated it daily in the kindness he showed every single person he met,” Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill said in a statement. “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.”
Wilson played in 169 career games as pro and is a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1960s — he was named second team for the 1970s. He was also named a member of the NFL 100 All-Time Team in 2019.
Wilson’s No. 8 jersey is one of only five numbers retired by the Cardinals franchise.
After retiring as a player following the 1972 season, Wilson immediately began working in the Cardinals front office. He was on the team’s coaching staff — serving as interim head coach at the end of the 1979 season — and was also the Cardinals’ director of pro personnel (1977-1988) and general manager (1988-93) before serving as the club’s vice president until he retired in 2003.
“The game lost a true legend with the passing of Pro Football Hall of Famer Larry Wilson,” Pro Football Hall of Fame President & CEO 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.”