Larry Grantham, who starred at outside linebacker for the first 13 seasons of the Jets' existence, including of course in Super Bowl III, and was inducted into the Ring of Honor in 2011, has died. He was 78.
"I had 13 wonderful years in New York, even with the Titans," Grantham, who always wore his iconic uniform No. 60, reminisced in 2011 before he entered the Ring. "Sometimes we didn't get paid, but we had great times, and Sammy Baugh was one of the greatest coaches I ever played for. They're all outstanding memories for me. I still get excited when I get fan mail. People have been awful good to me in New York."
Grantham was awful good for the Jets and Titans and their fans. A member of the University of Mississippi's "All-Century Team" in 1959, he was drafted by the Baltimore Colts (coached at the time by Weeb Ewbank) in the 15th round of the 1960 NFL Draft, held in November 1959. But he decided to throw in with the Titans of New York, who made him one of their 32 "first selections" in the fledgling American Football League's first draft around the same time.
And Grantham, who played at 6'0" and 210 pounds, was a starter and contributor from the day he arrived. He was speedy, impactful, and displayed the hands of a sure tackler and a defensive thief. That first season he came up with five interceptions and three fumble recoveries, the first eight of his 43 individual takeaways, which to this day are the franchise career record.
The takeaways were only part of his game. He was an ironman, playing in 175 of the franchise's first 182 games. And after Ewbank came over from the Colts to coach the Jets in 1963 and Walt Michaels took over as defensive coordinator, Grantham's career took off.
"Walt would say Larry was one of the smartest players he ever coached," said Frank Ramos, the Jets' longtime public relations director. "And Weeb always thought he'd make a great coach because he was a coach on the field. Larry was so dedicated, he was an outstanding tackler, and he had a great, long career."
"I always saw Larry as the captain and the leader," said Gerry Philbin, the Jets' left end on many of Grantham's defenses and a fellow member of the Ring's Class of '11. "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."
That status was recognized with five AFL All-Star Game selections and five years of All-AFL recognition. He was on the AFL All-Time Team's second team announced before the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. In 1971 he was only the third defensive player and first linebacker to be voted Jets MVP.
Top Photos of the Ring of Honor Member's Career with the Jets
And in Super Bowl III against Baltimore, he was credited with three tackles and two pass defenses for the Jets' underrated but superb defense that came up with five takeaways and held the NFL champions scoreless until 3:19 remained in their football-rocking 16-7 triumph in Miami.
Grantham, a Southern gentleman off the field from Crystal Springs, MS, never complained about any lack of recognition from the NFL. But he was genuinely excited to find out he was one of the four members of the Jets' second Ring of Honor class. Along with Philbin, Freeman McNeil and Al Toon, he was enshrined during halftime ceremonies at the Jets-Dolphins game on Oct. 17, 2011.
"That probably climaxes a career and doesn't take second place to anything," Grantham said of the honor. "I'm not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and sure, that's a great big honor, but to me this honor with the Jets is unbelievable. Just think of all the players they've had up there from 1960 till now. It's something I can't put into words."
He went on to a full life after football. He was a Jets radio broadcaster for a short while, and was in business and banking for a long time. And he worked closely with Freedom House, the New Jersey drug and alcohol treatment center, for more than two decades.
Grantham will be laid to rest in the hometown where he began his legendary career. Visitation will be held Tuesday, June 20, from 5-8 p.m. atStringer Family Funeral Service in Crystal Springs, MS, and the funeral service will be held Wednesday at 11 a.m. at the First Baptist Church in Crystal Springs.