When you think of sheer football toughness and grit, running backs like Jim Brown and Houston Texans Defensive End JJ Watt come to mind. But the record for all-time toughness has to go Hall of Famer Larry Wilson. The former St. Louis Cardinal (when St. Louis had a football team, and they were also the Cardinals), routinely makes the list of the NFL’s greatest players – and for good reason.
The Cardinals Free Safety spent his entire playing career with the Cardinals and after retiring, spent the rest of his working career with the Cardinals, even moving to Arizona from St. Louis. with the team. That wasn’t what was most remarkable about Wilson. What was most remarkable was his dedication to the game.
Yeah, those are casts. Over his broken hands.
Wilson was a free safety whose size and speed were previously unheard of in that position. In college he played running back, but was too small to play there for the NFL. He switched to defensive back after being drafted by the Cardinals in 1959, but he had the athleticism that allowed the defense to experiment with using him as a pass rusher – which had never been used to rush the quarterback before. The Cardinals created a new blitz play called the “Wildcat,” and that became the name Larry Wilson picked up too. That just describes his speed and athleticism, however. His toughness on the field was another matter.
Throughout his 12-year career, Wilson racked up 52 interceptions, five of them being worth six points. One of those interceptions was caught while the Wildcat was on the field with two broken hands, still playing free safety with casts over his hands.
After retiring from the NFL as a player in 1972, Wilson became a coach on the staff of the Cardinals, and later, an executive for the team. In 1978, The Wildcat was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, the first year he was eligible for induction. For 17 years, he was the General Manager of the Cardinals, and ever since he left the field, he is remembered as a part of every All-Star or All-Time team ever created by sports pundits. He is routinely labeled as one of the greatest players ever to take the field.
Not bad for a kid who was too small to play the game in the first place.