Tuesday, September 22, 2020

TUESDAY TIDBITS: "He Was the Fiercest Football Player I've Ever Known"

By TJ Troup

Larry Wilson Credit: George Bartell

Two weeks into the season and we have a couple games coming up next weekend that should be both entertaining, and give us insight as to which teams will rank at the top after three weeks. The Rams at Buffalo and the Chiefs taking on the Ravens are must-see football for me. This past Sunday marked the 50 year anniversary of Lem Barney returning an interception for a touchdown against the Packers in the Lions season-opening victory. Barney would end the year by again returning an interception for a touchdown against Green Bay, giving him 3 scores in four years against the Packers. For those of you who are youngsters----once upon a time the Lions actually had cornerbacks who could cover and make a play. 

Lem Barney credit: Chuck Ren

Will dovetail onto the recent tribute to Larry Wilson here at the Journal. Was visiting the Cardinal offices to do research years ago, and upon leaving met Larry in the elevator. Our short conversation soon became a ten-minute discussion as we talked about history, defensive philosophy, and his career. The Cleveland Browns played winning football in the '60s and the Cardinals always seemed to play their best against them. 

I brought up the fact that after his interception return against Pittsburgh with two broken hands in '65 he missed a few weeks. Wilson returned for the last game of the year and pilfered 3 passes against Cleveland including a 96-yard interception for a touchdown. Larry tied the league record for consecutive games intercepting a pass in '66, and as such he had 12 interceptions in a ten-game span. 

He brightened up as he learned where both Steve Sabol and myself had him ranked in the pantheon of free safeties. Larry Wilson was cordial, classy, and was amazed at how small physically he was. He ranks with the men who outperformed their physical gifts. 

Robert Burnes terrific book The Story of the Football Cardinals has many quotes on Wilson, yet my favorite comes from John David Crow . . . "He was the fiercest football player I've ever known". Having watched a virtual ton of film on Wilson, could go page after page listing all he accomplished, yet one game stands out for me. Since the Cardinals closed the season in 1960 with a victory over Pittsburgh to finish with a winning record, and there was plenty of talent on this team, many pundits thought St. Louis would be a contender in 1961. 

Pop Ivy resigned after twelve games with a record that year of 5-7. After defeating Dallas the Cardinals could even the slate at home against Pittsburgh. Wilson intercepts and sets up one score and in the 4th quarter he "red dogs" through one A-gap as middle linebacker Dale Meinert red dogs the other. 

They combine to sack Bobby Layne, force a fumble, and Wilson out fights Steeler center Buzz Nutter for the ball. An interception, a sack, and a fumble recovery in a shut-out victory; how many players can make that claim in league history? Later today will be on John Vorperian's show "Beyond the Game" discussing the NFL in the '50s and doing my usual compare/contrast with how this game of passion is played now. 

On a personal note, and cannot think of a better way of ending this saga; the passing of Lenore Fields. My high school best friend messaged me the other day about her passing, and there is no better time to enlighten all of you about inspiration. Winter of 1969 and as a soon to be 18-year old who thought he had all the answers this classy lady reached me like no other. 

She had a commanding presence, spoke to you in a way to have your complete attention, and her tests were like none had ever taken previously. Questions phrased in a way to elicit deep feelings brought to light on paper had a room of silence for 50 minutes on test day. Mrs. Fields inspired me on a daily basis, and upon leaving her class for the last time due to a schedule change to play baseball we spoke in the doorway for the last time. She looked up at me and put her hand on my forearm and stated "someday you will be an author". 

Yeah right, Lenore . . . as I'm thinking about the horsehide, Rawlings glove,  my Roberto Clemente Louisville Slugger, and competing in the Sunset League. Years later teaching U.S. History at Mater Dei High School my students were challenged, and taught in a way that they had never been before due to Lenore........her impact on me impacted so, so many others. RIP Lenore, you were one of a kind.

1 comment:

  1. Coach, how about posting a link to the Beyond the Game stint with Mr. Vorperian? thanks in advance