|Position:||Defensive end / Defensive tackle|
July 21, 1956|
Florence, South Carolina
|Died:||April 23, 1987
|Height:||6 ft 5 in (1.96 m)|
|Weight:||251 lb (114 kg)|
|High school:||Ferguson (VA)|
|NFL Draft:||1978 / Round: 1 / Pick: 28|
|* Offseason and/or practice squad member only|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Career NFL statistics|
|Player stats at PFR|
Larry Bethea (July 21, 1956 – April 24, 1987) was an American football defensive lineman 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.
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 selection in 1973. He also was a distinguished student that received football scholarship offers from Harvard and Yale.
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).
In 1979, after Jones retired to pursue a boxing career, Bethea competed for the starting left defensive end role, but the job went to Larry Cole and he was moved to defensive tackle, where he could not move ahead of Dave Stalls on the depth chart.
Bethea continued to play as a backup at defensive end and defensive tackle, but his production began to dwindle as his personal problems and addictions grew. Although he remained with the Cowboys for six years, he failed to become a starter and live up to his potential.
Bethea's most notable play was stopping Los Angeles Rams' fullback Jim Jodat at the Cowboys' 11 yard line on fourth and one during the third quarter of the 1978 NFC Championship game. In the 1981 NFC Championship game, Joe Montana released the pass over Bethea's stretched arms that Dwight Clark would make "The Catch" on, to propel the San Francisco 49ers to a 28-27 win.
In December 1983, Bethea 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, as he was suspended on different occasions.
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 23, 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.
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