Lawrence “Larry” Thomas Hand, who played 13 seasons as a defensive end and defensive tackle in the National Football League (NFL) for the Detroit Lions from 1965 to 1977, grew up in the Apshawa community in the Township of West Milford.
He was the first Butler High School graduate to play for the NFL. Later, his younger brother, Ted Hand, was the first West Milford High School graduate to play with the NFL. He was with the Houston Oilers in the NFL June 1977 to Sept. 1978; then with the Hamilton Tiger Cats in the Canadian Football League. He returned to the Oilers after two years.
Hand’s friend, Greg Van Orden, also from Apshawa, was recognized for his sports ability too. Both went to Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina and both were named to the university Sports Hall of Fame. Hand (#71) is only one of four Appalachian players who have their jersey number retired.
Although he did not pursue a professional career like Larry Hand did, Van Orden also made a name for himself at the university in both football and wrestling success from 1960 to 1963.
Hand was inducted to the Appalachian State University Athletic Hall of Fame on Sept. 13, 1975. Van Orden was inducted Sept. 22, 1984. Unlike Hand who went on to professional football, Van Orden chose to return to his hometown to teach business classes at West Milford High School.
Born in 1940, Hand played defensive end and defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions from 1965 to 1977. At six foot four inches tall he weighed 250 pounds.
Born July 10, 1940 to Helen and Larry Hand, his early school days were spent in the two-room Echo Lake School. His primary grade teacher, Verina Genader, knew nothing about the game of football but when “Lawrence” and his team had a game scheduled her eyes were loyally glued to the television set. The number of television sets across the nation (black and white picture) had gone from 9 percent in 1950 to 92.6 percent in 1965.
On Nov. 25, 1965, the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) aired the first color broadcast of an NFL football game – a Thanksgiving Day match between the Baltimore Colts and the Detroit Lions. As a rookie in 1965 Hand shared responsibility at the right defense end position with Sam Williams. He appeared in all 14 games at defensive end for the Lions in the 1965, 1966 and 1967 seasons.
On Oct. 1, 1967, Hand scored his first NFL touchdown on an interception against Cardinals quarterback Jim Hart. He had a total of two interceptions for touchdowns during the 1967 season.
In 1968, Hand sustained torn knee ligaments in the season opener. He underwent surgery and missed the rest of the season. In 1969, he held out for the first two weeks of training camp but again signed with the Lions in late July. He returned to the position of the Lions right defense end, starting all games during 1869, 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1973. He held out again in 1973, then signed again in early August. He started all games in 1975. On Nov. 14, 1976, in the 10th game of the season, Hand injured his knee in a game against the New Orleans Saints and missed the rest of the season. In April 1977, he tested the waters as a free agent and got an offer from the Houston Oilers but the Lions matched it and he returned to play 14 games for the Lions but was not a starter. In 1978, the Lions placed Hand on waivers, ending his NFL career. At the time of retirement, his 164 games ranked him fourth in franchise history.
In the early 1980s, Hand and his wife, Darlene, of Winston Salem North Carolina settled in her hometown and worked as stockbrokers.
After eighth grade graduation, Hand became a sending district student at Butler High School in the days before West Milford had its own high school.
He was five feet, six inches tall and weighed 135 pounds when he started high school. Hand did not play varsity football until his senior year at Butler, and he was never a starter. The team that year was coached by Donald Hawkins, Bill Smith and Joe Barcocy. Others on the team with Hand from West Milford were Greg Van Orden, Bill Brickman and Noble Rhinesmith.
Following graduation, Hand started worked as a mason in the West Milford area and surrounding towns. When he entered Appalachian State College in Boone, North Carolina, he was six foot, four inches tall and weighed 215 pounds.
At Appalachian State, he played college football for the Appalachian State Mountaineers football team in 1962 under head coach Jim Duncan. Hand was then 22. He continued to do well in the sport and at the end of his junior year in 1963, he was unanimously selected as a first team tackle on the All-Carolinas Conference Football team. He was also chosen as the outstanding lineman in the conference.
Things got even better for the football star when he was named the most valuable player in the Carolinas Conference. Hand was also named to the NAIA All-American team. He was the only player chosen as a first team player on both the offensive and defensive units of the NAIA District 26 team – selected as a tackle on offense and an interior lineman on defense.
When the 10th round of the 1964 NFL draft came around in December 1963, Hand was chosen as a “future selection.” A rookie in 1965, he shared responsibility at the right defensive end position with Sam Williams. Things went well with Hand going forward as an active participant in all 14 games. He was the Lion’s defensive end for 1965, 1966 and 1967 seasons.
The 1967 season was an especially good one for the guy from the Butler High School Class of 1958. Greg Van Orden was in the junior class that year and also was a member of the Butler High School football team.
Recognition to the two football players, after they went to the university or elsewhere, always referred to them as Butler residents, never mentioning their real hometown of West Milford. That’s because mail for the southern part of the township came out of the Butler post office on rural delivery before West Milford had a township-wide post office system.
The Hand family bought the former Cook Farm on Weaver Road and moved there in the 1940s. Lawrence Hand Sr. and his wife Helen Hinchman Hand had seven children. They are Flora Jane Hand (Trenton), Lawrence Hand Jr., (Winston Salem NC), Thomas Hand (Andres, Pa.), Helen Hand Ryan (West Milford), Theodore Hand (Detroit Michigan), Mary Hand Baisch, Surfside Beach North Carolina, and Christopher Hand, Melville New York.
Hand was a member of the Civilian Construction Corps in 1933 for a year; was a special police officer at Packanack Lake 1941-1942; and enlisted in both the Marines and US Coast Guard 1943 to 1945. He was Apshawa Fire Company Chief. Helen drove a school bus and was very active in the Echo Lake Parent Teacher Association.
Larry and Helen Hand retired to Satellite Beach Florida. He died on Aug. 24, 1998 and Helen passed away Sept. 16. 2004 at age 87. In addition to their children they had 18 grandchildren and 22 great grandchildren at the time that Helen passed on.
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