Yale Lary, a Hall of Fame safety and a superb punter who helped take the Detroit Lions to three N.F.L. championships in the 1950s, died on Thursday at his home in Fort Worth. He was 86.
His death was announced by the Lions.
Playing with Detroit for 11 seasons, Lary appeared in nine Pro Bowls and was voted to the N.F.L.’s all-decade team for the 1950s.
“The combination of speed and quickness made him a real ballhawk,” Raymond Berry, a Hall of Fame receiver for the Baltimore Colts, told The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “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’s Detroit teams defeated the Cleveland Browns in the 1952, 1953 and 1957 N.F.L. title games. His defensive teammates throughout the years included Jack Christiansen, Jim David and, later, Dick Lane, who was known as Night Train, and Dick LeBeau in the secondary and Joe Schmidt at linebacker.
Robert Yale Lary was born on Nov. 24, 1930, in Fort Worth, the only child of Buster and Kathryn Lary. He was a multisport athlete at North Side High School there and a two-way player at Texas A&M, scoring two touchdowns on offense in the Aggies’ 22-21 upset of Texas in November 1951. He also played in the outfield and at first base for the Texas A&M baseball team that went to the 1951 College World Series.
The Lions selected Lary in the third round of the 1952 N.F.L. draft. After playing on two championship teams, he served in the Army in 1954 and 1955, then returned to the Lions but also played minor league baseball during the off-season.
Lary had 50 career interceptions, with season highs of eight in 1956 and 1962, and ran back two for touchdowns. He also scored three touchdowns on punt returns.
He led the N.F.L. in punting three times and averaged 44.3 yards per punt.
“Kicking from the end zone, Yale invariably put the ball across midfield with enough hang time to let us cover the kick,” Schmidt, a fellow Hall of Famer, said, according to the Hall. “He made our defense look good because he always gave us room to work.”
Lary developed punting skills in junior high school, when he often practiced outside his home at night. As the writer George Plimpton told it in “Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback,” in which he profiled Lions players he worked out with at the team’s 1963 training camp, “the streetlights would go on and he would punt the ball up through the cover of darkness, gone, and then forty or fifty yards down the street it would suddenly re-enter the streetlight’s glow, startlingly white, and bounce erratically on the macadam and rock to a rest.”
While playing for the Lions, Lary was elected to the Texas House of Representatives as a Democrat and served two two-year terms. He owned an auto dealership and had interests in oil and gas and banking after leaving football.
Lary is survived by his wife, Janie Boothe Lary; a son, Robert Jr.; a daughter, Nancy Jane Lary-Mathews; four grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.
Lary was only 5 feet 11 inches and 185 pounds, but when the Lions drafted him, he put baseball behind him for a time, looking to his immediate financial situation since he had just married.
For all the plaudits he received, he told Brent Zwerneman in “Game of My Life: 25 Stories of Aggie Football” (2003) of how, when he defended against rangy pro receivers, “I was scared to death all the time that I was going to get beat.”
Published at Sun, 14 May 2017 23:40:41 +0000