Yale Lary, the former North Side High School standout who became one of the National Football League’s greatest players, is dead at age 86.
Lary, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, died Thursday night. He is the only Fort Worth native in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“He was a great dad,” Yale Lary Jr. said Friday morning. “He was a loving and forgiving dad.
“Growing up, it felt like I was the son of a celebrity. But Dad didn’t act like one. I love it when people ask me if I’m related to ‘THE Yale Lary.’
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“It opens the door for me to brag about Dad, since he never bragged about himself. Being his son opened a lot of doors for our family to meet some really cool people. For example, Dad and I use to have lunch with Ben Hogan at Shady Oaks, where Dad taught me to play golf. We’ve hung out and laughed with many of the A&M lettermen and NFL Hall of Famers over the years. “
Lary played safety and punter during his 11-year career with the Detroit Lions from 1952-64. He was a three-time All-Pro and nine-time Pro Bowler. He led the league three times in yards per punt and finished with 50 career interceptions. He missed two seasons, 1954 and 1955, because of military duties.
“I have a very difficult time expressing myself about Yale because there were so many things that he was perfect at,” said former Detroit teammate Joe Schmidt, a Pro Football Hall of Famer and a 10-time Pro Bowler. “He was one hell of a football player. He had good speed. There was no question about that. He was quick and intelligent in his play. He very rarely made a mistake. He was an all-around good teammate.
“He was the kind of guy who came to play every week and was a very likeable guy off the field.”
Lary won NFL titles in 1952 and 1957 with Detroit.
One of the greatest football players in Fort Worth history, Lary was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on July 28, 1979. The class also included Dick Butkus, Ron Mix and Johnny Unitas.
“After Dad’s induction in ’79 our family went to Canton each year for the enshrinements. Talk about feeling like a celebrity, the HOF staff and volunteers really put it on strong,” Lary Jr. said. “I knew my dad well — I saw the character of a team player, others before self, honesty, trustworthiness, dependability and grit. Dad has many individual honors but truth be known, Dad was never in it for himself. He was in it to help his team, his family and his friends win. I’m so proud that he has been recognized for his accomplishments. He will always be my hero in so many ways.”
Lary was so good on defense and special teams that opponents had to game plan against him.
“He sure was special,” said Paul Hornung, Green Bay’s Hall of Fame running back, who played several years against Lary. “He was All-Pro almost every year. He was a real key in Detroit’s defense.
“Detroit and the [Chicago] Bears were our main contenders in those years. Whenever we played Detroit, we had to know a lot about Yale Lary. “
Raymond Berry, the Baltimore Colts Hall of Fame receiver and former SMU standout, played against Lary twice per season.
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“Talent,” Berry said. “He had great speed and football instincts. He played with an excellent defensive team and was an integral part of that team.”
Lary’s playing size (5 foot 11, 185 pounds) was a perfect fit for his position. But it was his quickness that set him apart.
“You needed quickness more than you needed weight,” Hornung said. “They [cornerbacks] had the toughest job in pro football, covering the receivers. Most of the time, the receivers were the fastest athletes in the league.”
Berry said Lary could cover a lot of ground in a short period of time.
“He had a real knack for getting to the football and when he got there, he would intercept it. He had a wide field of range, which speaks to the quickness that he had. The combination of speed and quickness made him a real ball hawk,” said Berry, who finished his 13-year pro career with 631 catches. “He was one of the defensive backs that had such a nose for the football that you had to be careful throwing around him because if you made a mistake, the ball will be in his hands going the other direction.”
Lary also returned kicks. He had 126 career punt returns for 758 yards and three touchdowns. He also averaged 22.5 yards per kickoff return in his career.
The Lions present the Yale Lary Special Teams MVP award each season in his honor.
“He did a multitude of things that young men don’t do today,” Schmidt said. “He did all those things very, very, very well.
“Time marches on.”
Before joining the Lions as a third-round draft pick out of Texas A&M, Lary was a two-sport standout for the Aggies.
He played football and baseball, earning All-Southwest Conference honors as a punter-defensive back and all-conference honors as an outfielder.
Lary was once asked if he could play in the modern-day NFL
“I know they say they are bigger and faster, but I think I could play, sure, “ Lary told the Star-Telegram in 2006. “I could play somewhere. I covered some of the best guys in the league.”
“Absolutely. He could have played any time,” Hornung said.