Jets News

Remembering the brainpower of Larry Grantham

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Oct 17, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Detailed view of a New York Jets helmet during the game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 17, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Detailed view of a New York Jets helmet during the game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
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The smallish linebacker was even smaller than ever reported, but his brainpower was the envy of pro football and the New York Jets.

Larry Grantham‘s death this past Saturday at 78 leaves behind a legacy that even the biggest fans of the New York Jets don’t know as much about as they should.

His professional career was inextricably tied to head coach Weeb Ewbank. A 15th round draft pick in 1960 of the Baltimore Colts (who were coming off back-to-back NFL championships), Colts general manager Don Kellet and Ewbank told the All-America end/lineman coming out of U Miss that they would keep only a rookie or two for the 1960 season. That all but made Larry’s decision to join the AFL’s New York Titans for him.

Grantham caught the eye of the head of the Titan’s defense, John Dell Isola, who told his favorite defensive player to take the No. 60 that the coordinator had worn in his New York Giant days. By Larry’s second year, he was the Titans’ defensive signal caller, a role he maintained for the rest of his Titans/Jets career.

Grantham literally studied film (there were only a handful of projectors per team in the 1960s) in his family’s apartment every night after practice. His son, Jamie, would run the projector forward and back for Larry, who gathered specific information, tendencies, etc. about the next week’s opponent that he absorbed for his own benefit and shared in his southern twang like a Professor of Defense in a classroom who clued in all the linemen, other Jets’ linebackers and defensive backs.

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Grantham’s Strength: Brains, not Brawn

How well did Grantham perform his defensive signal calling? If you watch Super Bowl III, you can clearly see his feet and hands moving as he identified the play that Baltimore was about to run – and racing to the precise spot he needed to be at to make a one-on-one tackle.

Everyone remembers Joe Namath waving his finger in the air as he jogged to the locker room at the end of Super Bowl III, but Larry famously hoisted his helmet in the air on the Jets’ last defensive stand.

Every week, Grantham banked on his brains versus his less-than-fearsome brawn. His physical presence was seen by opponents, and even Ewbank when he took over the Jets, as a liability but it never worked out that way.

Grantham was small for a linebacker even by 1960 standards – officially 6’0 and 210 pounds – but Larry admitted to me that his actual playing weight was closer to 190 and that by the end of each season he’d have less than 180 pounds on his frame.

AFL offenses tried to run past him and over him, but Grantham’s quickness, uncanny ability to slip blocks and picture-perfect tackling form upended all such plans. Gerry Philbin said it all in the Jets’ official announcement of Larry’s death written by Randy Lange for NewYorkJets.com:

“Pound-for-pound, Larry was the Jets’ best player.”

Philbin, who should know, also believes Grantham, a five-time All- Pro in the AFL and a member of the All-AFL Second Team, should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A member of the Super Bowl Jets defense deserves to be enshrined, he stated to me, and it should be Larry.

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In researching a book I am writing, Grantham and I became wonderful telephone buddies. He will be dearly missed, especially as the 50th anniversary of the Jets’ Super Bowl season rolls around in 2018.

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