Your place and particular time on this earth will determine how others perceive you. New York Jets Linebacker Larry Grantham was probably born five or ten years too early to gain the notoriety that he rightly deserves. When you look at his accomplishments, it is somewhat stunning, that he has never really been considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Larry Grantham was born in Crystal Springs Mississippi in 1938. He went to college at Ole Miss. He was actually discovered at an American Legion baseball game. Ole Miss baseball coach, Tom Swayze, was there with Buster Poole, who was the assistant coach for the Ole Miss football team. At this particular game, both coaches were intrigued by the Crystal Springs catcher, Larry Grantham who made a great play on a player trying to score on a bunt from second base. That Brookhaven player that tried to score was none other than AFL legend Lance Alworth. After the game coach Swayze offered Larry Grantham a baseball scholarship and assistant football coach Poole invited Grantham to try out for the football team. Even then coach Poole had the linebacker position in mind for Larry.
Larry Grantham, despite being undersized, earned a starting spot and was one of the SEC’s best linebackers his junior and senior years. He also played end on offense. Larry took great pride playing for the Rebels. The 1959 Ole Miss squad was named the SEC team of the decade. This team lost a classic game to LSU 7-3 when Billy Cannon returned a punt 89-yards in the fourth quarter. Grantham thought about that game for years but he was always quick to point out in the rematch, in the 1960 Sugar Bowl, Ole Miss won 21-0. In that rematch Jake Gibbs (later of the NY Yankees) said that:
“Grantham hit Gannon every time he moved that day.”
At that Sugar Bowl there were numerous scouts. The AFL was just formed and the New York Titans signed Larry despite his being selected by the NFL Baltimore Colts. The first two years in the AFL were tough. The Titans home field, the Polo Grounds, was outdated and sometimes the rodents outnumbered the fans. Grantham tells how when the Titans paychecks started bouncing, one of the league’s founders, Lamar Hunt flew to New York and wrote checks for every player one by one in the locker room to help keep the league alive.
Jets legend Don Maynard and Larry’s teammate from 1960-72 said this about him:
"When your teammates vote you defensive team captain and another guy isn't even nominated, that says all anybody needs to know. Larry knew more football as a rookie than most guys who had been in the league three or four years. He called what defense we ran on each play, not the coaches. And you couldn't get him off the field. I saw Larry make a tackle one day in front of our bench, and when he got up the bone was sticking out of his little finger. The trainer kind of straightened it out, wrapped a little tape around it, and Larry was back out there for the next play.”
In 1964 and ’65 the Jets made two big steps. First they moved from the Polo Grounds into Shea Stadium. Then they drafted Alabama’s Joe Namath. The 5,000 fans for the games in the Polo Grounds turned into 60,000 screaming Shea Stadium fans. Grantham would always love running out of the Shea Stadium tunnel hearing the fans going crazy.
As the Jets front office built up the talent, by 1968 they had a defense that was stacked with smart, quality players. Joe Namath and the Jets defense led the team into the 1969 Super Bowl and changed football forever. Larry Grantham’s role was huge in this historic run. His coaching staff loved him. In fact the Jets only had two film projectors. One was given to Joe Namath and the other was given to Larry Grantham. His teammates loved him! Teammate, defensive end, Gerry Philbin said this of Larry Grantham:
““I always saw Larry as the captain and the leader. His football knowledge, the way he skirted around blockers and made tackles … he just surprised a lot of people. Pound for pound he was the best player on the Jets.”
When you dig deeper into the actual play of Larry Grantham, for a linebacker, he barely broke the scale at 200 pounds. He had great anticipation and his sideline to sideline speed was very good. He was a hard hitter and played with a combination of smarts and toughness. The respect he garnered in the locker room was second to none, including even Broadway Joe.
In a time when stats were not given the attention they are given today, Grantham is credited with having 24 interceptions which is one less than Darrelle Revis. He also had 37 1/2 sacks. A stat that I put a huge emphasis on is the number of games he played. In 13 seasons and a possible 182 total games he played in 175. This is a tremendous feat especially when you consider how today’s players spend money on personal trainers, chefs and nutritionists.
Larry Grantham played for the Jets and Titans for 13-years. He was a five-time AFL All Star and was an All-AFL-pick ten times. He was one of only 20 players who played in the AFL for it’s entire existence from 1960-1969. He was only one of seven AFL players to play his entire career in one city. He was the Jets team MVP in 1971 and was chosen into the Jets Ring of Honor in 2011.
I mentioned how a player with Larry Grantham’s desire might have been looked upon more seriously for the NFL Hall of Fame today because the league lacked the ability to keep accurate statistics including total tackles and assist in games.
Larry Grantham has flown under the radar and should be given more credit for his accomplishments. Pound for pound NFL players never came any better than Larry Grantham!
Marty Schupak has been a New York Jets football fan since 1964. Ray Clifford another lifelong fan contributed to this article. Their blog and Podcast are both at:
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