Yale Lary, a Lions defensive back, punter and return man who was one of the best football players of the 1950s, has died at the age of 86.
A nine-time Pro Bowler, Lary was an important member of the Lions’ last three championship teams, in 1952, 1953 and 1957.
Born in Fort Worth, Texas in 1930, Lary went to Texas A&M and first gained acclaim as one of the country’s best punters. “Lary, four-sport letterman at North Side, Fort Worth, kicked the hides off numerous pigskins while he was in junior high. He practiced kicking at school and then took a friend home to chase punts for him,” a 1950 newspaper account said.
Lary became a great two-sport athlete, starring in both football and baseball. His college football career is best remembered for leading A&M to a 22-21 victory over Texas in his senior year, 1951, the first time in 12 years A&M had beaten its biggest rival. A two-way player who was the team’s best defensive back, Lary starred on offense in that game, running for a 68-yard touchdown and catching a 37-yard touchdown pass. That same year, Lary led the baseball team to the College World Series and set a Southwest Conference record for doubles.
The Lions drafted Lary in 1952 and he had four interceptions as a rookie and also punted and returned kicks, and he helped the Lions win the NFL Championship Game. In his second season the Lions again won the NFL Championship with Lary intercepting five passes and again punting and returning kicks.
In 1954, Lary left the Lions to serve two years in the Army. He returned to the Lions in 1956 and was chosen a first-team All-Pro each of the next four seasons, again helping the Lions win the NFL Championship in 1957. Lary played minor league baseball during the NFL offseasons, and while still an active player he was elected to the Texas Legislature in 1958 and re-elected in 1960.
In later years Lary described the 1950s Lions as a tight-knit family.
“What I remember best of those times were not the games we played — the only one that sticks in my mind was the ’53 championship game when the pass to Jim Doran beat Cleveland in the last few minutes — but the closeness of everybody on the team,” Lary said in 1979. “I was talking to Torgy [former lineman Laverne Torgeson] just last night and we agreed there never was a team like the Lions of the 1950s. It was just one big happy family — our family against the rest of the football world.”