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The Graves of Larry Wilson and Jimmy Conzelman

by Randy Snow

Original to www.theworldoffootball.com, Thursday, April 20, 2023

In the city of St. Louis, you will find the final resting place of not one, but two Pro Football Hall of Famers. They are located in neighboring cemeteries on the same street. Both cemeteries are massive and the graves we were looking for were not easy to locate, but it was well worth the effort to find them. These are Gridiron Grave visits #46 and #47.

On a recent trip to St. Louis for catch an XFL game between the St. Louis Battlehawks and the Vegas Vipers, my son Adam and I took the time to visit a couple of graves on the north side of town. The first was the grave of Larry Wilson, a defensive back in the NFL for 13 seasons.

Wilson was born on March 24, 1938 in Rigby, Idaho. He played college football at Utah and was selected in the seventh round of the 1960 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. He played his entire 13-year NFL career with the Cardinals from 1960-1972, wearing the number 8.

In 1973, a year after he retired as a player, some friends wanted to put up a statue of Wilson in St. Louis.  He did not want a statue and said, “I just didn’t want to be a target for all those pigeons.”

Wilson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1978.

After his playing career was over, Wilson went into coaching. He was the Cardinals’ defensive backs coach and served as the team’s interim head coach for three games in 1979, winning two and losing one.

Over the next three decades, Wilson then moved up through the front office of the team, serving as the director of pro scouting and as director of pro personnel. Wilson became vice president and general manager of the team in 1988, the year the team moved from St. Louis to Arizona, and held the positions until 1993. He eventually retired from the team in 2003. No player has worn Wilson’s jersey number, 8, since he retired as a player in 1972. His name was added to the Cardinals’ Ring of Honor in 2006.

Wilson died on September 17, 2020 in Scottsdale, Arizona at the age of 82. On October 25, 2020, the team honored Wilson by wearing a number 8 patch on the front of their uniforms during a Sunday Night Football home game against the Seattle Seahawks.  

The other grave that we visited that day was that of Jimmy Conzelman, a halfback and quarterback in the early days of the NFL.

Conzelman was born on March 6, 1898 in St. Louis, Missouri. He played college football at Washington University in St. Louis.  

After college, he served in the military and played on the Great Lakes Naval team that won the 1919 Rose Bowl game, shutting out the Mare Island Marines 17-0. Two of his Great Lakes teammates were future Pro Football Hall of Famers, George Halas and Paddy Driscoll. In 1920, Halas recruited Conzelman to play with him on the Decatur Staleys team in the newly formed American Professional Football Association, which became the NFL in 1922.

He played one season with the Staleys and then played for the Rock Island Independents in 1921. While playing in his first season with the Independents, the owner of the team fired the head coach in the middle of a game and named Conzelman as the new head coach! In 1922. Conzelman played for both the Independents and the Milwaukee Badgers and continued to play for the Badgers in 1923 and 1924.

In 1925, he was offered a chance to become an owner of an NFL team. He became the owner, head coach and a player on the Detroit Panthers. The team lasted just two seasons from 1925-1926 and posted an overall record of 12-8-4. The team was decent on the field, but fans in Detroit just did not support the team.

From 1927-1929, Conzelman was a player/coach for the Providence Stream Roller and led the team to an NFL championship in 1928. This was in the days before there were playoffs in the NFL, so the team with the best record won the league title. Providence had a record of 8-1-2 that year.

With the exception of the Decatur Staleys, Conzelman was a player and a coach on every team during his playing career.  

In the 1930s, he spent eight years as the head coach at his alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis, and led the team to three Missouri Valley Conference championships.

In 1940, he returned to the NFL as the head coach of the Chicago Cardinals. He coached the team for six seasons, from 1940-1942 and again from 1946-1948. He led the Cardinals to the 1947 NFL title. They defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 28-21. Conzelman was named NFL Coach of the Year in 1947. During the three years that he was away from the Cardinals, Conzelman was back in St. Louis, working as an assistant to Don L. Barnes, the President of the St. Louis Browns baseball team.

Conzelman had many jobs away from football. He was a writer, actor, musician, painter, newspaper publisher, public speaker and a Major League Baseball executive. He appeared in an uncredited role in the 1958 movie, Damn Yankees, as the manager of the Washington Senators baseball team. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1964.

Jimmy Conzelman died on July 31, 1970 in St. Louis, Missouri.

Finding the Graves

Larry Wilson is buried in the Bellefontaine Cemetery. The address is 4947 West Florissant Avenue. He is located in the O’Fallon Section near the center of the cemetery. The best way to find it is to have someone from the office or a security person take you there. If you drive around the section, you will see the headstone, which is near the road. The back of the headstone is very impressive. It contains his number 8 and the logo of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, among other things.

Jimmy Conzelman is buried in the Calvary Cemetery and Mausoleum. The address is 5239 West Florissant Avenue. He is located in Section 30. The best way to find his flush-to-the-ground headstone is to look for a standing headstone with the last name of Napoli on it at the south end of the section. Conzelman’s headstone is located next to it.   

Have Grave, Will Travel Video

Check out the “Have Grave Will Travel” video of our visit to these two graves on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PfOu0fcU42Q


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