He made up for his stature with outsize tenacity and a deep understanding of the game.
“If Larry Grantham were judged only on his size, no coach in his right mind would pick anyone so small as a linebacker,” Weeb Ewbank, the Jets’ coach from 1963 to 1973, told Arthur Daley of The Times in 1966. “But once that coach saw Larry in a game, he’d grab him in a hurry because he has such quickness, such instinctive reactions and such an acutely developed sense of anticipation that he ranks with the very best.”
In an era before offensive and defensive plays and formations were signaled in from the bench, Grantham called all the Jets’ defensive formations on the field. In the 1969 Super Bowl, when the Jets of the upstart A.F.L. upset the heavily favored Baltimore Colts of the established N.F.L., 16-7, he was at his best.
“Larry knew what everybody on defense was supposed to do on every play,” said Paul Rochester, a defensive tackle for the Jets in that Super Bowl. “The Colts kept running at me and Gerry Philbin, so Larry kept calling the same defense. ‘They’re coming your way,’ he’d yell. ‘Just keep stopping ’em.’”
The Jets’ defense held the Colts’ vaunted running game to one touchdown and shut down their passing game with four interceptions. The victory came as no surprise to the Jets, who viewed the Colts as inept after watching films of their earlier games. The week before the Super Bowl, Joe Namath, the Jets’ brash quarterback, guaranteed in public comments that his team would win. Ewbank was aghast at Namath’s brazenness, fearing it would ignite a fire under the perhaps overconfident Colts.
The Jets’ Super Bowl victory gave credibility to the young A.F.L. just before its merger with the N.F.L. in 1970. Grantham, one of 20 people who played in all 10 seasons of the A.F.L., was an A.F.L. All-Star eight times and was chosen for the second team in voting for the all-time A.F.L. team.