2010 Pro Football Hall of Fame: Meet Floyd Little
Young children all over the country grow up idolizing their favorite players, wanting to become the next “insert name here.” But when you have a major superstar actually come from your hometown, the fire burns even brighter.
For those children who grew up playing football in southern Connecticut towards the end of the “Baby Boom,” 2010 Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee Floyd Little may have been that fuel.
The New Haven, Connecticut native went from troubled prep star to Denver Broncos legend in the span of a decade, and while his now-Hall of Fame career spanned only nine years, it saw Little play in two leagues, rack up dozens of accolades, and eventually achieve numerous firsts.
Let’s take a look at the first Denver Bronco to ever have his jersey retired by the team.
Floyd Little was born in Connecticut on July 4, 1942.
As a teen, he starred for Hillhouse High School for a short time before transferring to the now-defunct Bordentown Military Academy in southern New Jersey. When his prep career ended, Little reportedly had 47 scholarship offers on the table to play college football.
He chose Syracuse because it was the alma mater of recently deceased Ernie Davis—the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy—and adopted Davis’ number 44.
From Military Man to Orangeman
Little had big shoes to fill, as he was almost Davis’ immediate successor at Syracuse.
No matter, as Little showed early on that he was going to be every bit the star Davis would’ve.
As a sophomore in 1965, Little rushed for 828 yards—more than Davis or Jim Brown had as a sophomore—and led the team in receptions, receiving yards, and kick return yards as well. He even completed two passes for nine yards and a touchdown, and his efforts earned him the first of three All-American honors.
Two Years, Tons of Records
The following year, Little ramped it up a notch, becoming the first Syracuse back to rush for over 1,000 yards—1,065 to be exact—and leading the nation with 19 total touchdowns.
That season, he set the following school records: most touchdowns by a back (14), most receptions in a season (21), most all-purpose yards in a season (first to break 2,000), and longest punt return (95 yards).
He again led the team in kick return yards as well, finished fifth in the Heisman voting, and was named an All-American for the second straight year.
That would truly be his magnum opus, as Little’s senior year was spent splitting time with Larry Csonka.
Still, he rushed for 811 yards—including a school-record 216 in the Gator Bowl—and scored 15 touchdowns, once again earning All-American honors and finishing fifth in the Heisman race.
When all was said and done, Little had the school record for touchdowns (46) and punt return touchdowns (5), and was a sure-fire top draft pick.
Welcome to the AFL
In the 1967 AFL-NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos took Little sixth overall. He became the first-ever first-round pick to sign with the Horsies, and his multi-dimensional talent helped make him one of the best players in NFL history…but not at first.
In his first two years, Little was used mostly as a return man. He led the AFL with a 16.9 yard per punt return average in his rookie season, and also had a career-high 942 kick return yards that season.
He became a bit more of a force in his sophomore season—totaling 915 yards from scrimmage, which led the league—and earned his first of two consecutive nods to the AFL All-Star Team in 1968.
1969, the final year before the official AFL-NFL merger, saw Little play only nine games. However, he did lead the league with a 5.0 yards-per-carry average, earned his second All-Star award, and flash glimpses of the talent that would make him the pre-eminent back in Broncos lore.
As the AFL became the AFC, Floyd Little became a true star.
1970 saw him rush for 901 yards, becoming the first Bronco to win the AFC rushing title. He also broke 1,000 yards from scrimmage for the first time and earned his first of three Pro Bowl berths.
In 1971, Little led the entire league with 284 rushes, 1133 rushing yards, an 80.9 yards per game average, and 1388 total yards from scrimmage. That rushing total made him the first Bronco to crack four digits on the ground and helped him earn his second straight appearance in the Pro Bowl.
Much of the same followed in 1972 and 1973, and the latter year saw him record his only season of 1400-plus yards from scrimmage, lead the league in touchdowns with 12 and get his third and final Pro Bowl nod.
When all was said and done, Little emerged from the span of 1968-1973 as the NFL’s leader in both rushing and yards from scrimmage—all on a team that didn’t record a winning campaign until the final one.
The End of an Era
Like many running backs these days, Little “hit the wall” a bit in his thirties and was quickly (and sadly) replaced.
With his position effectively usurped by Otis Anderson—Denver’s No. 1 draft pick in 1973—Little saw his rushing totals decline to roughly one-third of his career average in 1974. That season, Anderson led the NFL with 1408 yards rushing, while the 32-year-old Little chipped in only 312.
Little’s final NFL season, 1975, saw him take over for an injured Anderson and start 10 of 14 games. However, he was overshadowed by fullback Jon Keyworth and only recorded 445 yards rushing.
Following Denver’s heartbreaking season-ending loss to Miami—one that saw him carry only eight times for 20 yards—No. 44 decided to call it a career.
While his total of 6,323 career rushing yards currently ranks him No. 62 on the all-time list, Floyd Little was No. 7 when he retired—and when you consider that the six men who were ahead of him (and fomer ‘Cuse teammate Larry Csonka, who passed him shortly after Little’s retirement) are all in the Hall of Fame, that’s impressive company.
During his career, Little racked up the following impressive totals:
-12,157 All-Purpose Yards
-6,323 Rushing Yards
-3 Pro Bowls
Impressive totals, for sure.
Little’s football greatness didn’t end in 1973.
In the 1980s, he became the first Bronco to have his number retired, earned induction into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983, and was a charter member of the Broncos’ Ring of Fame in 1984.
Since his retirement, Little has served as an analyst for NBC sports, coached at UC-Santa Barbara for a brief time, and owned several automobile dealerships throughout the country.
And, finally, on August 8, he will take his rightful place in the pantheon of the elite when he is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame alongside Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Rickey Jackson, John Randle, Dick LeBeau, and Russ Grimm.