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NFL Hall-of-Famer from Rigby to be honored with monument of his likeness later this month

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RIGBY – A monument honoring a local football legend will be unveiled during a ceremony at Rigby High School later this month.

Rigby native Larry Wilson, an NFL Hall-of-Famer who popularized the safety blitz, played 13 seasons with the former St. Louis Cardinals from 1960-1973. He passed away in September of 2020 at age 82 and on Aug. 27, a bronze sculpture of his likeness will be placed outside the Trojan’s football field.

“It’s a bronze relief of Larry from a photo taken at his last game before he retired playing with the Cardinals. It’s a great photo of him and the sculptor has captured that beautifully,” Michelle Barber, Chair of the Honoring Larry Wilson Committee, tells EastIdahoNews.com.

The monument will include two plaques with his career awards and highlights, along with his name and nickname, “Wildcat.” It will also include his birthdate, Rigby High School graduation date, University of Utah graduation date, death date and the following quote from him,

“It doesn’t matter where you come from. If you enjoy something and work hard at it, you can achieve your goal.”

A jersey made to look like Wilson’s will be permanently retired in conjunction with the dedication of the monument. Barber says the committee is also collecting donations to fund a leadership scholarship in Wilson’s name.

“It will be based on some of the same attributes Larry displayed,” Barber says. “We’re really excited about (this monument) and what I hope people take away from it is to come to know (Wilson) and the type of man he was.”

wilson jersey
A jersey made to look like Wilson’s high school jersey will be retired in conjunction with the dedication of the monument. | Rett Nelson, EastIdahoNews.com

Who was Larry Wilson?

Larry Wilson was born on March 24, 1938, to Frank “Whitey” and Doris Wilson. His little brother, John, was born about seven years later. His boyhood home, which is still standing today, was immediately west of the Presbyterian Church on West 1st North.

Doris died when Larry was 8-years-old so he helped take care of his little brother.

DeeAnn Wilson-Wright, Larry’s first wife and high school sweetheart, describes him as a shy, modest guy who always worked hard at everything he did.

“Academically, he was average. I was kind of the tutor,” Wright says. “He was always involved in athletics.”

Though Wilson was small in stature, he excelled in baseball, basketball, track and football.

Wilson’s high school friends and teammates included Noel Brizzee, Norman Jorgensen and Dick Broulim, who owns Broulim’s supermarket locations throughout eastern Idaho. Broulim told us in September Wilson played his heart out at every game.

RELATED | NFL Hall-of-Famer from Rigby dies, remembered as ‘kind, humble man’

A regional championship against Sugar City in 1956 is a football game Broulim remembers particularly well.

“(Wilson) was injured during that game,” Broulim recalled. “I don’t remember what the injury was, but he was hurt and it didn’t slow him down. We didn’t have state championships at that time, but we won that game. I think we were second in the state.”

During his time with the Cardinals many years later, Wright recalls another occasion when Wilson was injured. He had two broken hands and intercepted a pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers

“It was amazing … because he couldn’t dress himself or do a lot of things because he had casts on both hands. But he was still determined to play.”

Barber remembers that game in great detail and says his interception allowed the Cardinals to win the game.

“He intercepted the ball and cradled it against his chest because he didn’t have hands to grasp it,” says Barber. “He took off running and got down to the third-yard line against Pittsburgh and set up a play for a touchdown. They beat Pittsburgh 21-17.”

A news release from the Cardinals indicates Wilson had 52 interceptions during his 13 seasons with the team, 10 of which occurred in 1966 when he was awarded NFL defensive player of the year. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1978 and was named to the NFL’s all-time team in 2019 during the league’s 100th season.

“With or without teeth or hands, no one played free safety with the wild west abandon of Wilson. He terrorized enemy quarterbacks,” NFL Films President Steve Sabol said.

‘His name was left behind’

Like many other Rigby High School graduates, Barber grew up hearing about Larry Wilson. Her family loved watching football together and Barber was particularly interested in Wilson. She was pretty young during his high school years, but she followed his professional career and enjoyed watching him play.

The field at Rigby High School was once named in Wilson’s honor. Barber says her dad was instrumental in making that happen. Wilson attended the dedication ceremony with his family in 1967 and his No. 7 jersey was retired as well.

“Over time, Larry’s name was left off of the new high school when it was built out on the highway (in 1993). After several years, it was actually renamed for someone else,” Barber explains.

Today, the football field at Rigby’s Harwood Elementary carries Wilson’s name. There have been numerous unsuccessful attempts in recent years to get Wilson’s name back on the high school football field, Barber says.

wilson football player
Larry Wilson photo, left, provided by the Arizona Cardinals. | Football card of Larry Wilson, right, provided by Dick Broulim

Preserving Larry Wilson’s legacy

Wilson came back to Rigby every summer for many years and donated his time to charity events. Barber says he helped set up the baseball program in Rigby and once outfitted the entire high school football team with uniforms and equipment.

Wilson returned to Rigby in 2012 for what would be the last time to accept the “Hometown Hall of Famer” award.

“Being here today brings back such fond memories of growing up and playing football at Rigby High School,” Wilson is reported to have said at the time. “One of the main reasons that I am standing here and receiving this honor is because of the terrific coaching I received as a student-athlete here at Rigby, the same type of great coaching that still exists here today.”

As Rigby has grown over the years, there are many people who are unfamiliar with Larry Wilson. Barber says Wilson left behind an incredible legacy that should not be forgotten and she’s following in her father’s footsteps to make sure it’s preserved.

“He came from humble beginnings without a mom. The things that he accomplished in spite of his small stature,” says Barber. “He set the bar so high and they are still showing his game film to safeties today.”

“Youth today (who feel they are disadvantaged in some way) can take inspiration from Larry Wilson,” Barber adds. “That’s the impetus behind us pushing to get him in front of the community. He is a presence that every resident of Idaho, and Rigby especially, should be proud to say, ‘He’s from my home state.'”

Members of Wilson’s family will be in attendance for the unveiling of the Larry Wilson monument on Aug. 27 at 5 p.m. Among them will be his daughter, Christie, and his son, Larry Wilson, Jr., who will be making a few remarks. Manny Hendrix, athletic director at the Univ. of Utah and former NFL player, will also be there, along with Barber, Jefferson County School District Superintendent Chad Martin and others. The ceremony is expected to last 30 minutes and the community is invited to attend.

wilsons boyhood home
This house on West 1st North in Rigby was the boyhood home of Larry Wilson. | Rett Nelson, EastIdahoNews.com

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