In honor of Floyd Little being announced as a senior nominee for the 2010 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we thought we’d publish the following list, compiled by Thomas Mackie, entitled “44 Reasons to Elect Floyd Little to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
1 - Floyd Little retired in 1975 as the 7th All-Time Rusher in NFL History; players who were ranked 7th in 1980, ’85, ’90, ’95, and 2000 were all elected to the HOF
2 - The 6 players ahead of Little (Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson, Jim Taylor, Joe Perry, Leroy Kelly and John Henry Johnson) have been in the HOF for years. Johnson, who rushed for just 480 more yards than Little, was inducted in 1987, even though it took him 4 more seasons to rush for more yards.
3 - Floyd Little’s impact on the NFL is without equal among Seniors Candidates – he literally “saved the Broncos from extinction,” according to HOFer Stan Jones. The Broncos were planning on relocating to another city in 1967 – Chicago, Birmingham, or elsewhere – before Little became the first #1 pick to ever sign with the team in 1967 (Dick Butkus, Merlin Olsen, Bob Brown, and other famous Broncos #1 picks signed with NFL teams). Floyd’s impact was felt immediately. He was instrumental in getting fans to vote for the expansion of Mile High Stadium that led to a string of sellouts that lasts today. He was named “The Franchise” for his on-field performances and tireless work in Denver communities. As Len Dawson said, “Floyd Little was the Denver Broncos for many, many years.” His efforts kept the Broncos in Denver – today one of the NFL’s marquee teams.
4 - Little was the most complete and versatile back of his era. Hall of Famer Mel Blount recently called Floyd “The first triple-threat player of the modern era.” ((See “44 Hall of Famers on 44 Floyd Little” for more opinions)) On top of his rushing exploits, Floyd was an excellent pass receiver, kick returner, blocker, and even tossed the half-back option; Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham called Little, “The most complete back I ever played against. He was even a superb blocker.”
5 - Little retired 7th all-time in rushing despite playing behind an inferior line and was the Broncos only offensive threat during most of his career. In fact, no Broncos offensive lineman was voted to the Pro Bowl – including the 2 years he led the AFC in rushing and the entire NFL in 1971. As a comparison, Jim Brown’s line was named to the Pro Bowl 19 times, 3 to the HOF; Taylor: 20 Pro Bowlers, 2 HOF; Perry: 19 Pro Bowlers, 3 HOF; JH Johnson: 17 Pro Bowlers, 3 HOF; Kelly: 13 Pro Bowlers,
1 HOF; Simpson: 6 Pro Bowlers, 2 HOF
6 - Little was a one-man offense in Denver. HOFers from Floyd’s era contend that stopping him was every team’s #1 goal when they played the Broncos. As Nick Buoniconti put it, “When you played the Broncos you played Floyd Little. He was the Broncos. You didn’t worry about the passing game. You didn’t worry about anything else – except stopping Floyd Little. That’s all we ever tried to do.” Yet, despite the singular focus of teams, Floyd somehow retired 7th all-time in NFL history. In comparison to the talent in his division alone, while Floyd never played with a Pro Bowl lineman, or a single HOF teammate or coach, the 3 other teams in his division all boasted future HOF coaches (Sid Gillman, Hank Stram, Al Davis and John Madden) and a combined 21 future Hall of Fame players on the Chargers, Chiefs and Raiders.
7 - During a 6-year period, 1968-73, Little led the NFL in Rushing
(By comparison, from 1958-63, Jim Brown led the NFL; from 1978-83, Earl Campbell led in rushing)
8 - During that same period, 1968-73, Little also led the NFL in Yards from Scrimmage (from 1958-63, Jim Brown led the NFL in yards from scrimmage; from 1978-83, Walter Payton)
9 - During Little’s career, only Simpson had more yards rushing
10 - During Little’s career, only Simpson had more yards from scrimmage
11 - Little ranks 16th in Rushing among all 41 HOF running backs
12 - Little ranks 17th in Yards from Scrimmage among all 41 HOF RBs
13 - Little ranks 11th in receiving yards among all 41 HOF RBs
14 - Little was a tremendous big-play receiver. HOFer Mike McCormack says Floyd Little was “as good as I’ve ever seen at perfecting the screen pass. He helped establish it as a dangerous play.”
15 - Little’s 11.2 per catch average is higher than Jim Brown (9.2), Joe Perry (7.5), Walter Payton (9.2), Simpson (10.6), Tony Dorsett (8.9) and Marcus Allen (9.2). Plus his 215 receptions for 2,418 yards, resulted in a blistering 45.7 yards per TD catch.
16 - Little’s versatility went well beyond running and receiving – unlike most HOF RBs, Floyd played special teams as a dangerous punt- and kick-returner – he ranks 3rd in Kick-return yards among all 41 HOF RBs with 2,523
17 – Little ranks 4th in Punt-return yards among all 41 HOF RBs with 893
18 - Little ranks 13th in Combined Yards among all 41 HOF RBs with 12,173 yards
19 - Little retired 8th in NFL history in Yards from Scrimmage
20 - Little retired as only 1 of 7 NFL players to total more than 100 yards per game (104), more than Emmitt Smith, Marcus Allen, Leroy Kelly and Lenny Moore (to name just a few).
21 - Little’s versatility was evident from the get-go – leading the league in Combined Yards 2 years in a row – in 1967 (as a rookie) and again in 1968
22 - Little led the AFL/NFL in punt returns as a rookie in 1967 with a 16.9 average
23 - Little was the only player in the AFL/NFL to return punts for TDs in 1967 and 1968
24 - Little was voted “1st Team All-AFL” in 1969. During that season, he was more than 300 yards ahead of all rbs in the AFL/NFL before a knee injury forced him to miss six games; he still rushed for 729 yards, rushed for most yards in a game (166), highest average per carry (5.0), and yards per game (81).
25 - The first year of the merger, Little led the AFC in rushing in 1970 despite playing the entire season with broken bones in his back, suiting up for a last-place team, being the team’s lone offensive threat, and averaging just 14 carries a game
26 - Little led the NFL in rushing in 1971 with 1,133 – only the 3rd back in history to win the title on a last-place team – and did it on a team that was in total disarray; Lou Saban resigned with 5 games remaining; assistant coach Jerry Smith took over as interim coach as the Broncos finished 4-9-1
27 - Little is the only NFL running back to win back-to-back conference rushing titles (1970 & 71) on last-place teams
28 - At 5-10, 195-pounds, Little was a trailblazer who helped pave the way for the “little” backs – becoming the smallest RB to win an NFL rushing title since WWII.
29 - Little led the NFL in rushing TDs in 1973 with 12
30 - During a four-year period, 1970-73, Little led the AFC in TDs with 35
31 - Little was voted to 5 Pro Bowls (2 AFL, 3 NFL) – same as Jim Taylor (5) and more than JH Johnson (4) and Joe Perry (3)
32 - Little still ranks in the Top 20 in NFL history with 11.02 punt-return average
33 - Little was voted to the All-Pro Squad of the 1970s by the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee after his retirement – the Pro Football HOF promptly displayed a Floyd Little “Superstar” plaque in Canton for several years honoring his achievements
34 - Little displayed unprecedented leadership; he was voted team captain all 9 seasons – even as a rookie
35 - Little was voted the 1972 Back of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America
36 - Little was one of the toughest players of his era – playing with injuries when others would be sidelined. He played in 5 Pro Bowls in 6 years – before his string of 4-straight Pro Bowls was broken in 1972 (at age 30) after suffering torn cartilage during the season but still managed to play all 14 games – rushing for 859 yards (4.0), 367 yards receiving and scored 13 TDs (9 rushing, 4 receiving). Following off-season knee surgery, Little came back in 1973 at age 31 to rush for 979 yards (missing 1,000 by 21 yards), caught 41 passes for 423 yards and scored another 13 TDs; Little’s comeback from major knee surgery garnered his 5th Pro Bowl in 1973.
37 - Little played in an era where gaining yardage was much tougher than it is today – and backs took much more punishment. During Little’s era, offensive -linemen could not use their hands, and helmet-to-helmet tackles and clothes-lining opponents were the norm; also Little was already 30 years old when the hash-marks were finally moved to midfield in 1972, allowing 10 backs to rush for 1,000 yards that season (compared to 5 the previous year); he also played during a time where both fullback and halfback shared carries – when Little led the AFC in rushing in 1970, he carried the ball just 209 times; nearly 30 years later, Jamal Anderson led the NFC in rushing in ’98 with 410 carries
38 - Little became the NFL’s 7th-leading rusher despite playing on the AFL’s all-time worst team. In Floyd’s first season, there was a new coaching staff and 26 rookies on the Broncos, and Coach Lou Saban traded the Broncos 1st-round picks in 1968 & 1969 for backup QB Steve Tensi. In 1968, a record 5 different QBs started for the team. During his career, Floyd played with 27 different QBs as the Broncos went 47-73-6 and never made the playoffs, although the team improved every year he played
39 - Little became the NFL’s 7th-leading rusher despite coming into the league as a 25-year-old rookie – ancient for RBs – having gone to a military prep school prior to enrolling at Syracuse
40 - Little rushed for more yards per game than HOFers Leroy Kelly and John Henry Johnson, and more yards from scrimmage per game than Kelly, Johnson, Joe Perry and Jim Taylor
41 - Little was so loved and admired by Broncos fans for keeping the team in Denver the city held a special “Floyd Little Day” on October 29, 1972, before a sell-out crowd at Mile High Stadium for his numerous contributions on-and-off-the-field
42 - A tremendous role model and leader in the Denver community, who served as the Governor’s special assistant, Little won the 1973 National YMCA Brian Piccolo Award for Humanitarian service and the 1974 Byron White Humanitarian Award by the NFLPA
43 - At age 33, in his last game at Mile High Stadium, Little scored 2 TDs and accounted for more than 150 yards from scrimmage, including a spectacular 66-yard TD; he was still returning kicks too. Despite the 18-degree weather fans stormed the field and carried him off on their shoulders in celebration of his legendary career
44 - Little’s number 44 was retired by the Broncos on August 21, 1976, at Mile High Stadium; After 50 years, Little and John Elway remain the only 2 Broncos to have their numbers “officially” retired; “The Franchise” was voted into the College Hall of Fame in 1983 and was the first inaugural class inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame in 1984. Floyd Little’s impact on the Broncos organization was so great John Elway says “Floyd Little is the greatest Bronco of us all.”
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