There’s no denying that going through tough times makes the good ones that much better, and that seems to be a lot of what the last member of this year’s TJB Hall of Fame class is about both on and off the field.
As a left outside linebacker, Larry Grantham created chaos for opponents of the Titans and later the Jets during his thirteen year career from 1960 – 1972. Grantham was one of the team’s leading tacklers year in and year out, but the league didn’t keep records at the time, otherwise he would likely be a top five tackler for the Jets to this day.
Still, it’s hard to find Grantham’s names in many of the records books, he’s tied for third overall with 24 career interceptions for the Jets and 7th among all Jets with an impressive 175 games over the course of his 13 years. As far as accolades, Grantham was named to the AFL All-Star team five times and played in eight league All-Star games, and was later selected to the All-Time All-AFL Second team.
While Namath was the leader of the offense, it was Grantham who called signals and knew where not only he, but his opponents were going to be on any given play. His teammates recalled that during the course of the Super Bowl game, Grantham called the same play repeatedly, and was right in doing it, helping to hold the Colts to just one touchdown for the entire game.
Need more proof Grantham was tough? Drafted as a WR/TE from Ole Miss, during his first year with the Titans, his coaches realized he was too small and slow to play either position, so when other players were hurt at safety, he’d be asked to move over, then the same thing happened with linebackers and he did it again. And so the too slow, too small WR/TE became a professional linebacker, playing at a weight close to or under that of most defensive backs. Grantham was listed at 6 feet and 210 pounds during the 1968 season, while his peers were listed at 240 pounds. Last fall, Grantham admitted to New York Times reporter Dave Anderson that “the most I ever played at was 192 … by late in the season, probably 185.”
Always looking out for his teammates, when Super Bowl III ended it was linebacker Larry Grantham who took the game ball from the referee’s hands and then made a rather famous leap of joy. “The minute the game was over the first thing on my mind was the game ball, to go get the football,” said Grantham to interviewers of the NY Jets, The Complete History. “And I got the football and then on all I remember doing was the vertical leap … I think mine might have been a world record. Because all I knew was, it was probably the happiest, most fantastic moment of my life.” Fantastic and happy because Grantham knew how hard it had been to get to that point.
For as great and tough as Grantham was on the field, it’s clear he’s a better person away from it. Grantham has taken part in numerous acts of charity since his playing days, and is regarded as the de facto alumni director for his Super Bowl III teammates, keeping tabs on everyone, just like he did when he led the defense.
When word came to him that one of his former teammates, Tackle Sam Walton, was in need, it was Larry that sought him out said teammate and longtime friend DT Paul Rochester. “Larry heard that Sam was living on the streets in Memphis and tried to find him to help him. One time, Larry even spotted him, but Sam took off; I guess he was too embarrassed,” explained Rochester about Grantham’s devotion to those that were less fortunate. “When Larry heard that Sam died in an abandoned house, he arranged for a proper burial for him. That’s Larry.”
One of Grantham’s biggest endeavors was to keep his football fraternity strong and at the same time help out those who have struggled with one of his biggest challenges in his own life, alcoholism. Because of this, Grantham lent his support by way of a golf tournament to benefit Freedom House in Glen Gardner, NJ a home for recovering alcoholics, in the process helping to raise $1.5 million for the organization. Beyond just financial support, Grantham has visited Freedom House more than twenty times over a period of more than ten years, encouraging others through his own success at battling his disease.
To prove his point, Grantham would let residents of Freedom House try his Super Bowl III ring on, and tell them that if he could quit, they surely could too. It was this very ring that made a stir this past February, when he put it up for auction to help pay down some of the debt he had accrued from medical bills while fighting cancer, now thankfully in remission.
What ended up happening was a small dose of karmic payback for Grantham, who had already done so much for others. After one reporter for the Star-Ledger got hold of the story it spread quickly, and thousands of dollars flooded in to Freedom House from fans to help the director of Freedom House try and buy back the ring. While fans pledged their supprt, the Jets and the NFL’s Dire Need Fund got involved, and even the auction company was ‘moved to tears’ by the story, and pulled the auction, giving Mr. Grantham his ring back while the money was donated to Grantham to help defray Grantham’s medical bills.
“I never asked anybody for anything,” Grantham said. “I thought (auctioning the ring) was my only way out. I’m so overwhelmed; I can’t even talk about it. I can’t believe people are that generous.”
It’s not hard to believe people are that dedicated and generous when they have examples like Larry Grantham.