Larry Bethea

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Larry Bethea
No. 76
Position: Defensive end / Defensive tackle
Personal information
Date of birth: (1956-07-21)July 21, 1956
Place of birth: Florence, South Carolina
Date of death: April 24, 1987(1987-04-24) (aged 30)
Place of death: Hampton, Virginia
Height: 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m)
Weight: 251 lb (114 kg)
Career information
High school: Ferguson (VA)
College: Michigan State
NFL draft: 1978 / Round: 1 / Pick: 28
Career history
 * Offseason and/or practice squad member only
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Games played: 34
Stats at
Stats at

Larry Bethea (July 21, 1956 – April 24, 1987) was an American football defensive lineman who played six years in the National Football League for the Dallas Cowboys. He later played for the Michigan Panthers, Oakland Invaders and Houston Gamblers of the United States Football League. He played college football at Michigan State University. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound within hours of being identified as a suspect in two armed robberies.[1]

Early years[edit]

Bethea was a standout for Ferguson High School, playing both ways as an offensive end and defensive end. He was a Parade All-American and a Group AAA all-state in 1973.[2]

He accepted a scholarship to play for Michigan State University, where he began as a tight end until being converted into a defensive tackle during his sophomore season.

His 1977 season was arguably the greatest ever by a Michigan State football player, when he totaled 45 solo tackles, 45 assisted tackles and 16 sacks, becoming such a dominant force that he was the first defensive player to receive Big Ten Conference MVP honors since Dick Butkus in 1964.

Bethea finished his college career as a three-year starter, with school records in: career sacks (33), career tackles for loss (43) and sacks in a season (16).

Professional career[edit]

Dallas Cowboys[edit]

Looking for an eventual successor to Harvey Martin the Dallas Cowboys drafted him in the first round (28th overall) of the 1978 NFL Draft.

Bethea played defensive end and defensive tackle, but his production started to dwindled as his personal problems and addictions grew bigger. Although he remained with the Cowboys for six years, he failed to become a starter and live up to his potential.

His most notable play was stopping Ram's running back Cullen Bryant at the Cowboys 11 yard line on 4th and one during the 3rd quarter of the 1978 NFC Championship game .

Michigan Panthers (USFL)[edit]

In 1984, he signed as a free agent with the Michigan Panthers of the now-defunct United States Football League, receiving a three-year guaranteed contract. His personal problems continued with the Panthers,[3] as he was suspended in different occasions. After the Panthers merged with the Oakland Invaders, with the Invaders the lone surviving team, he was traded to the Houston Gamblers in exchange for a draft choice.[4]

Houston Gamblers (USFL)[edit]

In 1985, he was released by the Houston Gamblers.

Personal life[edit]

Bethea was rumored to have a drug abuse problem dating back to his college days, and cocaine addiction was blamed for the problems he had during his adult life.

His troubles with the law began in 1985 when he pleaded guilty to setting three fires in Mount Rainier National Park in Paradise Washington. He was ordered to pay $1,000 to the park to cover the cost of fighting the fires.

In 1986, he was jailed on charges of assaulting his wife and stealing his mother's life savings of $64,000. In 1987, he was given a suspended four-year prison term for stealing. The judge also ordered Bethea to serve two years on probation while repaying the money.

In the final incident, on April 24, 1987, police were called by an unidentified source who said the former football player had robbed two convenience stores. Bethea, 30, was later found in a friend's backyard with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his right temple and a .38-caliber automatic pistol near his body. He was taken to Hampton General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 2:08 a.m. The gun used in the shooting and the two robberies was believed to be a weapon that was reported stolen from a parked vehicle in the city.


External links[edit]