November 24, 1930 -
A three-sport star at Northside High School, the 5’11” Yale Lary always enjoyed baseball more than football or track. He wanted to play baseball professionally. As a high school senior in 1949 he won a city-wide baseball competition in which he had the opportunity to travel around the Texas League, taking batting practice with each team. And while his batting was impressive, his fielding skills were less so. He did not earn the baseball contract he wanted, but instead accepted a scholarship to play football at Texas A&M University.
While at College Station, Lary played both football and baseball. During his senior season in 1952 as a left fielder, he was on the university’s first team to play in the college baseball World Series in Omaha. His son, Yale Lary, Jr., played on Texas A&M’s third College World Series appearance in 1993.
As a football player, he made all conference as a halfback in 1951 before being drafted by the Detriot Lions in the third round of the spring 1952 draft. Lary truly blossomed as a defensive back with the Lions. He had a nose for the ball—in fact, breaking his nose five times during his career. As a free safety, he made fifty career interceptions and helped anchor Detroit’s fearsome defense of the 1950s. Only recently (with expanded schedules allowing for more opportunities per season) has Lary been pushed off the NFL’s top twenty list for career interceptions.
His professional career was interrupted by two years of army service (1954-55) at Fort Benning, Georgia. After returning to Detroit, Lary became one of the best punters to ever play the game. He won NFL punting titles in 1959, 1961 and 1963, and missed another one in 1962 by only 3.6 inches. In 1960, another year he did not win, Detroit’s opponents averaged less than one yard per return on his punts. Lary’s punts frequently had enough hang time for the coverage team to prevent any return; he had a string of six games (32 punts) with no returns. Averaging 44.3 yards in his 503 career punts, he had only four kicks blocked.
Possessing skill, speed—he also had breakaway ability on punt and kickoff returns—and heart, Lary was named All-NFL four times and played in nine Pro Bowls, including his last game as a professional in 1965. He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1979.