Hall of Fame safety and longtime Arizona Cardinals executive Larry Wilson passed away on Thursday night at the age of 82, the team announced.
Wilson spent more than 43 years with the Cardinals organization, dating back to their time in St. Louis. A seventh-round draft pick by the Cardinals, Wilson played all 13 years of his career in St. Louis and was named an All-Pro five times. Known for his toughness and versatility, Wilson helped define the modern safety position and is the originator of the safety blitz. Wilson finished his career with a franchise-leading 52 interceptions and his No. 8 is just one of five retired numbers in the franchise's history.
In the NFL's commemoration of its 100th season last year, Wilson was one of six safeties selected to the NFL All-Time Team.
"For more than 40 years, Larry Wilson played a remarkable role in the history of the Cardinals and National Football League as a Hall of Fame player and team executive," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "While he will be recognized for his toughness and excellence on the field and his many contributions to the Cardinals organization, we will also remember Larry as loyal, humble and kind to everyone he met. Larry enriched the lives of many players and colleagues around the league. Larry helped revolutionize the safety position in his 13 years as the versatile anchor of the Cardinals' defense. He popularized the safety blitz in the 1960's and also recorded 52 interceptions. His toughness and football instincts earned him recognition as one of the greatest to ever play the game. Larry was named to both the NFL's 75th and 100th season all-time teams. Following his retirement on the field in 1972, Larry remained with the team for 30 years in a variety of roles through his retirement as the Cardinals' Vice President in 2003. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife Nancy, daughter Christie, and son Larry, Jr., his friends and the Cardinals organization."
Wilson was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1978.
"The game lost a true legend with the passing of Pro Football Hall of Famer Larry Wilson," said Hall of Fame president & CEO David Baker. "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."
Wilson held multiple roles within the Cardinals organization after his playing days from 1973-2002 and saw the franchise's relocation from St. Louis to Arizona in 1988 when he was both vice president and general manager. Wilson served as the GM until 1993 but held his VP position until his 2002 retirement. Before then, Wilson 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.
"Besides my father, Larry Wilson was the most influential male figure in my life," said Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill in a press release. "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."