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Bronco Rob
01-31-2010, 03:41 AM
Kiszla: Floyd Little's last run


Former Broncos running back wants to be in Pro Football Hall of Fame but he realizes time is no longer his ally

By Mark Kiszla
The Denver Post

Updated: 01/31/2010 01:16:17 AM MST



FEDERAL WAY, Wash. — Older than Broncomania, too deep in debt to retire and feeling the chill of mortality on the back of his neck, Floyd Little cannot stop running. There is a do-or-die election to win.

Nearly 35 years after he dashed 66 yards for a touchdown, turning snow flurries that danced in the Colorado sky to tears raining down his cheeks in his the final game at old Mile High Stadium, the first true superstar in Broncos history finally gets his first real crack at being voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There is precious Little time remaining in his lifelong campaign, and the player who wore No. 44 for Denver knows the score.

"The Hall of Fame won't call twice. I've got to own this. Right now. There won't be another chance for me," said Little, his words popping with passion.

He must earn approval from 80 percent of the selection committee voters, who will gather Saturday and debate the merits of Little for his sport's greatest individual honor.

"Do you know the average life expectancy of an NFL player? It's 58. And you're talking to a 67-year-old man. So I'm already on borrowed time. I don't have that many years left on this earth. I don't want to go in the Hall posthumously. No, sir. That's not for me. I need to be alive to enjoy the celebration with family and friends. Forget posthumously. If I'm not here to enjoy it, give the honor to somebody who's still breathing."

With a clenched-fist fury that constantly rages just beneath the surface, Little refuses to give up on a dream long denied. The long run goes on forever. He keeps pushing the pile with the same intensity that once saved the NFL from deserting Denver and still makes a powerful man in the White House smile.

Vice President Joe Biden began law school at Syracuse in 1965, the same year Little outdid legendary Orange running back Jim Brown and Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis to become the first running back in school history to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season.

In memory, our snapshots of youthful glory never fade. At a family funeral Jan. 12, the vice president of the United States paused from saying final goodbyes to his late 92-year-old mother to pose a heartfelt question at Roger Harrison, a time-tested friend from college days at Syracuse.

Biden needed to know: "What are the chances Floyd Little gets in the Hall of Fame?"


Economy hits Little hard

As a feisty yellow sun tried to chase the gray gloom from a winter afternoon, a sleek Ford Thunderbird with vanity license plates that identified its driver as "FDL 44" rolled to a stop outside an abandoned building on five lonely acres. On this corner of the Seattle suburbs, the pain of a recession that has pushed the national unemployment rate above 10 percent can be found loitering, in absolutely no hurry to get up and leave.

The rock-hard shoulders of Little emerged from the Thunderbird. A running back who zigged and zagged for 6,323 rushing yards in a Broncos uniform walked a hard, straight line across an empty parking lot where 300 shiny new vehicles once invited buyers to kick the tires. Nothing here now except ghosts. Little exhaled slowly to calm his emotions, then turned a key in the door of a shuttered Ford store he proudly operated for 20 years.

"I'm just another statistic of a bad economy. I'm one of the faces of what happened to the American auto industry," said Little, former owner of one of the more than 2,000 U.S. car dealerships that have gone belly- up since 2008

"Twenty great years. Gone. I'm not mad. I'm not angry. I saw it coming, but I didn't get out in time. But know what's tough? Knowing all the people who worked here. I saw them get married, raise their kids. Many stayed with me to the bitter end. A lot of them can't find jobs."

As the sound of his shoes clicking on the tile floor echoed in a dealership where silver-and-blue balloons still hang more forlornly than balloons ever should, Little nodded at the motto painted on the wall of the main showroom: It's a matter of pride.

Not so long ago, before a padlock began rusting on the fence to the dealership's back lot, this piece of real estate was appraised at $5 million. Little, however, carries $2 million in debt on the property. "I can't even get an offer from a buyer," he said. "My retirement is locked up right here."

Little, who played for the Broncos from 1967-75, is from an NFL era in which pride mattered more than money. Why? Well, to tell the truth, nobody got filthy rich. As the No. 6 pick in the draft's opening round, Little's signing bonus with Denver was $10,000. And he grossed $78,000 in salary, but only if you combine all the paychecks from his first three seasons in the league.

"I used to cash my checks from the Broncos at 7-11. Got two Slurpees and the rest in twenties," said Little, laughing at the way things were back when the Fu Manchu of quarterback Joe Namath and coach Tom Landry's fedora dominated the game's look.

"But you know what ticks me off? People try to tell me now that an annual salary of $25,000 was a lot of money 30 years ago. Well, (Seahawks running back) Shaun Alexander, a guy who couldn't carry my jock strap, signed a $62 million contract in 2006. Even with inflation, you know the relevancy between $25,000 and $62 million? None. There is no relevancy."

So how does an athlete never paid six figures fill the long run between his final touchdown and his last breath? He rolls out of bed every morning and goes to work, working up a fierce sweat.

"Meet me at the gym," Little demanded, when asked where to find him these days.

Sure enough, there was a charter member of the Broncos' Ring of Fame among the soccer moms and weekend warriors at the health club on a recent morning, attacking the weight room the way he once tore through the Oakland Raiders defense.

In nine seasons with the Broncos, Little lugged the rock 2,041 times on handoffs, pass receptions and kick returns. Tacklers experienced the same overwhelming emotion when the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Little churned through the hole on cartoonishly bowed legs like the Tasmanian Devil. "Dread," reported Hall of Fame linebacker Nick Buoniconti.

I discovered that same dread when taking a seat under the shoulder press, after a man old enough to be a grandfather had ripped off three sets of 10 repetitions.

"Don't let me hurt you," said Little, chuckling as he moved to the biceps curls machine.

This must be how Wile E. Coyote feels, right before getting squashed by a boulder.


Broncos first star: Little

Enter any sports bar in Denver on a football Sunday. Poll the population on the most essential player to wear a Broncos uniform and the same two words would be repeatedly uttered: John Elway.

Great choice. But the best answer? No. Broncomania only bloomed after Little saved the franchise from dying.

"Without Floyd Little, there would be no Denver Broncos. Either they don't get picked up by the NFL in the merger, or they move to Alabama and become the Birmingham Broncos," said Tom Mackie, the co-author when Little penned his 2006 autobiography.

Although Little played in 126 games for the Broncos, not a single one was in the playoffs. Back in those days, the team stunk, losing more than 60 percent of the time.

Nobody took defeat harder than Little. His nickname was "Old Folks." His competitive fire burned so hot, teammates thought he was nuts. Losses made him fighting mad.

"I was a bad guy." Little said. "I would physically attack teammates in the locker room to the point where nobody wanted to dress next to me. I was unstable. When we lost, I got angry and would lose it."

In the garage of his home, not far from the work bench where a publicity photograph signed by Oprah Winfrey hangs next to tubes of caulk, Little pulled out a piece of art from the late Ernie Barnes. The glass of the frame is cracked, but Little loves the stark, black-and-white drawing of a football player slumped on the bench, shoulders slouched, ego crushed. The piece is titled: "To Know Defeat."

"That's me," said Floyd, gently cradling the image of a vanquished warrior. "I've been in that same position hundreds of times. All the games we lost in Denver . . ."

So imagine this scene: 'Folks' standing alone in the showers after another Broncos loss, too distraught to open his angry eyes, letting the water and soap cascade down his sullen face.

"And the soap kept coming and coming," because some practical joker thought it would be funny to sneak up and squirt a steady stream of shampoo on the balding head of the veteran running back, recalled Billy Thompson, the Denver safety who cherished Little as a mentor.

The humor of the prank, however, escaped Little. As showering Broncos scattered across a slippery floor, he searched frantically for the offender. He promptly convicted teammate Jon Keyworth, knocking him silly.

There was just one problem. Keyworth was innocent.

"Tom Jackson was the culprit," said Thompson, tattling on the linebacker now famous across the country as a television analyst. "Oh, T.J. did 'fess up eventually, but not for a long time, because we were all scared of 'Folks.' "

When Little retired, he was the seventh-leading rusher in pro football history. He was a hero in the lost time zone. There are baby boomers, dentists, broadcasters and truck drivers alike, their long hair from the '70s now gray, who grew up in Colorado eating Sigman hot dogs because Little once smiled on a billboard and told everybody they were dog-gone good.

At the Democratic National Convention in 2008, a silver-haired Biden told the crowd in Denver's football stadium: "I always dreamed I would be standing in this place. But I was hoping it would be next to my friend Floyd Little."

When Barack Obama was inaugurated as the nation's first African-American president, Little shuffled on freezing toes to bear witness.

When opening the Bible given to him as a farewell gift by the Broncos, Little sits in church and gazes at the all the signatures, including best wishes from Lyle Alzado, dead since 1992. Trophies in Little's basement proclaim him an inductee in hall of fames representing his high school, his college, two states and Jose Cuervo tequila. But the only Hall that truly matters, in Canton, Ohio, has pretended as if Little doesn't exist for more than three decades. Go figure.

As former NFL Players Association president John Mackey, who basically invented the position of tight end, wrote to the selection committee years ago: "If there's no room for Floyd Little in the Hall of Fame, please take me out and put him in."

"The sad thing is John Mackey now has such bad dementia from all the concussions he suffered playing football that he doesn't know how great he was," Little said. "The last time I saw John, he couldn't even remember my name."

Life's a short movie. How did we get here?


Always a fighter

Little insists he was born to run. He believes running was in his genes.

As a boy of 6, Little saw his father die of cancer. Maybe the unending chase for recognition began that day, with a determination to ball his fists and fight anybody whose negative opinion dared doubt his dreams.

"He showed up as a high school sophomore for his first varsity practice carrying a gym bag," said Norm Alderman, who was a center and linebacker for the 1959 Hillhouse High football team in New Haven, Conn. "The reason I remember it was Floyd had written something in Magic Marker on the bag. It said: All-state. I chuckled at first. But once you saw Floyd Little carry the ball, you knew he was going places."

Little is living proof that "football hero" isn't defined by wins and losses alone. What if the Hall of Fame rudely slams the door in his face now? Can Little deal with the pain? Has the anger that stoked his greatness on the field been buried?

"It's in remission. I can't say it's gone," Little said. "If you knock me down once, I can promise that you're going to get another opportunity to do it again, because I'm going to keep getting up. That's 100 percent. I will fight you to the end. You might whip me today. But I'll come back tomorrow and say, 'You wanna go?' And I'll eat you up."

Football ended for Little long ago. But the long run goes on, always another dream to chase with the rising sun.

The secret? Never stop.


Little's career

1966 The star tailback becomes a three-time All-American at Syracuse, finishing a college career with 2,704 yards rushing and 4,947 total yards, breaking school records set previously by Jim Brown and Ernie Davis.

1967 Becomes the first first-round draft pick signed by the Broncos after he's chosen sixth overall.

1968 After taking over the starting job in his second season, earns first AFL all-star selection. Leads the league in all-purpose yards for a second consecutive season.

1969 Tops the league with 5.0 yards per carry and is named an AFL all-star.

1971 A career year, best in the NFL in rushing yards (1,133) and attempts (284).

1973 Led the Broncos in rushing for a seventh straight season, still a team record.

1975 Finishes a nine-year NFL career as the Broncos' leader in rushing yards, attempts and TDs and now ranks behind only Terrell Davis. And his 12,173 all-purpose yards stood as a team record until Rod Smith broke the mark in 2006. . . . His 6,323 yards rushing ranked seventh all-time in the NFL at the time. . . .He was voted to the Pro Bowl three times.







.

The Moops
01-31-2010, 05:29 AM
Good story, but it comes across kind of depressing . . . Floyd is one of the most positive people you will ever meet. He is always laughing, joking, patting people on the back, and encouraging people to do better. I also wish he had talked more details about Floyd's HOF worthy career, the great games, etc. I know Kiszla wanted to delve into Floyd's intense nature, hey, the real pros never accept defeat. But, Floyd was captain all 9 years and he motivated players every week.

That One Guy
01-31-2010, 06:14 AM
Article came across... almost seeking sympathy for the guy. "He has nothing, give his this" sort of a tone.

Bronco Yoda
01-31-2010, 06:32 AM
Sounds like he just about lost everything.

gunns
01-31-2010, 07:23 AM
I think the depressing tone comes from the times and what a lot of people are going through. It's nice to see he still has that fighting spirit...for the HOF. I really hope he gets in but not holding my breath for it, after all, it is the HOF. He's the reason I'm a Bronco fan and I thought he was the greatest. After he left it was almost like Elway, waiting forever for another great RB and we had to wait about 20 years. He'll always be in my HOF.

dsmoot
01-31-2010, 07:41 AM
I think the depressing tone comes from the times and what a lot of people are going through. It's nice to see he still has that fighting spirit...for the HOF. I really hope he gets in but not holding my breath for it, after all, it is the HOF. He's the reason I'm a Bronco fan and I thought he was the greatest. After he left it was almost like Elway, waiting forever for another great RB and we had to wait about 20 years. He'll always be in my HOF.

A measure of a man is not his defeats. It is what he does after them. Floyd Little is the same man that kept getting up off the ground at Mile High when the team around him wasn't able to measure up. I applaud Floyd Little the Man. I am so glad I was fortunate to see him play in the latter part of his career. There is one particular game I will always remember, the last home game against KC (I believe). The Broncos could use a few players with his intensity and desire to win. He is a HOF player regardless of the outcome of the voting.

Cito Pelon
01-31-2010, 09:54 AM
Great article.

Floyd Little meant everything to the Denver franchise, no doubt about it. I was born and raised in Denver, and the energy for the franchise hit a new level when Floyd came to town. Denver was on the map suddenly. The bigtime RB from Syracuse - the guy that eclipsed Jim Brown's records. And Floyd didn't disappoint. He returned punts, he returned kickoffs, and he produced in the running game. He twisted defenders ankles with his moves, he got yds after contact. He was All-Pro.

I'm probably one of only a couple people on this board that actually met Floyd Little in his prime in Denver. He used to hang out at City Park Golf Course, which was pretty much the center of the 'good old boys' network of long time Denver sports fans. Black, white, Hispanic, City Park Golf Course was where they hung out back in the 60's.

The Denver metropolitan area population was only about 250,000 back then, it was a very small metro area, but it was the biggest metro area between Kansas City and the West Coast.

People don't remember those days, I do. Floyd Little was the biggest thing that came to town since the Lowry airbase in WWII, Martin-Marrietta and the Rocky Mountain Arsenal in the post-war era.

Floyd Little made Denver as an NFL franchise, and should be recognized for that as well as his actual NFL accomplishments - like retiring as the seventh leading rusher all-time. And that should be a big deal. Plus Floyd returned kickoffs and punts.

Floyd was a man among men, a great contributor to NFL history. He was an impetus to generations of Bronco fans, and we all know what great fans Bronco fans have been.

Bronx33
01-31-2010, 10:01 AM
I remember when floyd was a manager at leo payne which was right by my house i used to ride my bike down to see him ( really nice guy) always made time to shoot the shyt with us kids.

The Moops
01-31-2010, 10:08 AM
If you haven't already, it would be great for you to post your sentiments that you're sharing here on www.littleinthehalloffame.com. There's a whole section for fans to describe what Floyd meant to them and the Broncos...

Hamrob
01-31-2010, 10:25 AM
The problem with guys like Floyd and the HOF...is the farther they get away from the time they played in...the fewer the people who remember just what they accomplished during their time.

Most guys look at his numbers and try comparing him to Emmit Smith or Marshall Faulk etc. They forget that when he played, it was entirely different game and that he was every bit the Smith/Faulk of his day!

The Moops
01-31-2010, 04:17 PM
That's why it's so hard for the seniors committee. Even some of them never saw Floyd play . . . but there are some HOF voters who did see Floyd. Sid Hartman, Vito Stellino and Peter Finney all have to be in there 70s or older now . . . the voters just need to be reminded that back then 1,000 yards was a big deal.

Hogan11
02-01-2010, 12:09 PM
They're gonna dick him out of it...just have that feelin'. Hope like hell I'm wrong about it.

The Joker
02-01-2010, 12:19 PM
Gotta agree with Hogan, just have a bad feeling they'll keep him out.

Peter King said a few times he'll be voting no for Floyd based on his stats, which is what I fear most of the guys who never saw him play will do. Annoying that people who never saw the guy in action are going to be deciding his fate.

Obviously I didn't see him play either so what do I know? But I don't have a vote.

dbfan21
02-01-2010, 12:40 PM
I agree it's an article dripping with melancholy, but it's almost Kisla's hail mary pass at this point. The other way (logical analysis based on contributions to the team/league) has not worked, so this might be the only way to get the attention Little deserves. King did make mention about it in his MMQB article today...maybe he was swayed enough to vote for #44.

BigPlayShay
02-01-2010, 12:44 PM
I heard Klis on the radio today (AM 1510) and he said that judging by his conversations with voters is that Little will get in. Not a sure thing, but his feeling was positive.

no-pseudo-fan
02-01-2010, 12:49 PM
Peter King thinks that Little's odds are pretty good this year

The Moops
02-01-2010, 03:23 PM
Wow, can't wait to read what King wrote . . .

listopencil
02-01-2010, 06:16 PM
As former NFL Players Association president John Mackey, who basically invented the position of tight end, wrote to the selection committee years ago: "If there's no room for Floyd Little in the Hall of Fame, please take me out and put him in."



Strong words.

broncosteven
02-01-2010, 07:15 PM
"Without Floyd Little, there would be no Denver Broncos. Either they don't get picked up by the NFL in the merger, or they move to Alabama and become the Birmingham Broncos," said Tom Mackie, the co-author when Little penned his 2006 autobiography."

Mooooooooops!

The Moops
02-01-2010, 08:29 PM
King gave Floyd 9-5 odds of making it . . . I'm not a gambler, so does that mean less than 2:1?

bronco610
02-01-2010, 08:55 PM
King gave Floyd 9-5 odds of making it . . . I'm not a gambler, so does that mean less than 2:1?

It means out of 9 times he gets in 5 times.

The Moops
02-02-2010, 09:37 AM
What kind of math did he do to figure that out . . . out of 9 times he gets in 5 times. Why not say out of 900 times he gets in 500 times:)

broncocalijohn
02-02-2010, 11:17 AM
I thought they normally vote for the hall before the Pro Bowl so they can be introduced during the Pro Bowl game. What changed it this year?

bronco610
02-02-2010, 11:29 AM
What kind of math did he do to figure that out . . . out of 9 times he gets in 5 times. Why not say out of 900 times he gets in 500 times:)

9 to 5 odds are usually part of calculations used for horse racing. Maybe he wrote the story at the track.

broncosteven
02-02-2010, 01:08 PM
It means out of 9 times he gets in 5 times.

Aren't those almost lock odds that he gets in in the betting world?

The Moops
02-02-2010, 06:16 PM
Usually they do introduce the HOFers at the Pro Bowl, except this year the PB was first . . .

The Moops
02-02-2010, 06:17 PM
I would like to think Mike Klis knows something that we don't, because he's been pretty positive in saying Floyd will get in . . . ugh, the waiting!

bronco610
02-02-2010, 08:14 PM
I would like to think Mike Klis knows something that we don't, because he's been pretty positive in saying Floyd will get in . . . ugh, the waiting!

Moops, your probably about my age which means your really smart.:spit:
Please tell me you dont really have your hopes pinned on Klis.

The Moops
02-03-2010, 03:20 AM
I absolutely do not have my hopes pinned on Klis. If anything, his words are making me realize he knows as much as I do. But I DO believe Legwold will do an excellent job. So Floyd is in great hands. It's the other 43 voters I'm worried about.

watermock
02-03-2010, 03:31 AM
He won''t get in.

TD will.

JCMElway
02-03-2010, 08:56 AM
Little deserves to be in the Hall more than TD does.

bronco610
02-03-2010, 10:07 AM
Little deserves to be in the Hall more than TD does.

Most definetly.

The Moops
02-03-2010, 07:56 PM
I can understand fans feeling strongly about TD. It's a generational thing. I believe TD is headed for Canton someday. however, I was fortunate to watch both Floyd and TD play and Floyd was the better player -- a more exciting runner, receiver, and all-around RB. He was an incredible runner who didn't have the benefit of wide-open zone blocking schemes. Some of his best runs were getting back to the line of scrimmage. Sometimes Floyd had to zig-zag back and forth across the field to gain 15 yards. Sid Gillman, the HOF coach of the Chargers used to tell his guys, If you miss Little, don't chase him 'cause you won't catch him. Your best bet is to wait because he'll be back. Floyd was an amazing receiver out of the backfield, averaging over 11 yards per reception. There's not a RB in the NFL the past 35 years who comes close to that. He was a tremendous blocker. Stan Jones, a HOF tackle with the Bears and a Broncos assistant under Saban said on passing downs when they needed extra protection, Floyd would stay in and switch blocking roles with the fullback, protecting the QB's blindside, usually given to the bigger back. He also was the lead blocker anytime the fullback got the ball. As a punt and kickoff returner, Floyd led the league in combined yards his first 2 seasons, and the league in punt returns as a rookie. In addition to retiring as the 7th leading rusher, he had nearly 3,500 yards in returns. As Jack Ham said, "Floyd was the most complete back I ever played against."
Obviously, Floyd and TD are not competing against each other. I believe both are HOFers. It's just if I had my choice as the one back I would want behind John Elway on my all-time all-star Broncos team, it would be Floyd.

broncosteven
02-04-2010, 10:58 AM
I can understand fans feeling strongly about TD. It's a generational thing. I believe TD is headed for Canton someday. however, I was fortunate to watch both Floyd and TD play and Floyd was the better player -- a more exciting runner, receiver, and all-around RB. He was an incredible runner who didn't have the benefit of wide-open zone blocking schemes. Some of his best runs were getting back to the line of scrimmage. Sometimes Floyd had to zig-zag back and forth across the field to gain 15 yards. Sid Gillman, the HOF coach of the Chargers used to tell his guys, If you miss Little, don't chase him 'cause you won't catch him. Your best bet is to wait because he'll be back. Floyd was an amazing receiver out of the backfield, averaging over 11 yards per reception. There's not a RB in the NFL the past 35 years who comes close to that. He was a tremendous blocker. Stan Jones, a HOF tackle with the Bears and a Broncos assistant under Saban said on passing downs when they needed extra protection, Floyd would stay in and switch blocking roles with the fullback, protecting the QB's blindside, usually given to the bigger back. He also was the lead blocker anytime the fullback got the ball. As a punt and kickoff returner, Floyd led the league in combined yards his first 2 seasons, and the league in punt returns as a rookie. In addition to retiring as the 7th leading rusher, he had nearly 3,500 yards in returns. As Jack Ham said, "Floyd was the most complete back I ever played against."
Obviously, Floyd and TD are not competing against each other. I believe both are HOFers. It's just if I had my choice as the one back I would want behind John Elway on my all-time all-star Broncos team, it would be Floyd.

I concur, plus I want to show off my new Avatar.

Gene will be back but I want to support Floyd!

The Moops
02-04-2010, 06:58 PM
One of my favorite pictures!

Thanks.