I thought it might be fun to have a series of blogs (and, since it’s my blog, whatever I think might be fun seems pretty likely to find its way into print) on Broncos by the numbers.
The team has just completed 50 years of play, a milestone in any franchise history, and over that time a lot of players have made contributions, large and small, to what the Broncos are. It’s like family members, some more accomplished than others but when you are in a family, you are in for keeps. So too for the Broncos. Once a Broncos, always a Bronco.
Those players have worn a lot of numbers over the years, and we are going to take a look, over time, at various uniform numbers.
With the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies now about 10 days away, let’s take a look at Denver Broncos uniform number “44″.
One of three retired Bronco jersey numbers, it is one of the two retired numbers whose wearer is in the Hall of Fame, along with John Elway’s immortal number “7″.
Forty-four has been worn just three times in Broncos history, first by a reserve halfback named Bruce Starling back in the 1963 season, and then in 1965 by a defensive back named Miller Farr. I remember that Miller Farr liked to tackle high and was not very good at it, which proved to be a real bad combination in the Denver secondary that year. His brother Mel Farr was an outstanding player for the Detroit Lions for many years, but Miller Farr played just that one season for the Broncos.
Of course, all the stars came together in 1967 when Floyd Little, college football’s first consensus three-time All-American halfback since Doak Walker, also became the first number one draft choice signed by the Broncos. Floyd Little immortalized number 44 and two years ago when the number was retired by Syracuse University, the great Jim Brown said that the most deserving individual to ever represent that number at Syracuse was Little.
For more information on the Broncos’ greatest ever number “44,” you can check out the 44 reasons why Floyd Little deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which follows, along with comments on Floyd from 44 Hall of Famers, also attached.
Congrats again to number 44! Looking forward to seeing you in Canton next week!
44 Hall of Famers
44 Floyd Little
“I have a very simple test that I apply on Hall of Fame voting: Can you write the history of the game without the man? If you can’t, then you need to look at him very, very closely.” – Hall of Fame Seniors Committee Member
As you’ll see from the opinions of 44 Hall of Fame players and coaches from his era, Floyd Little was the most complete back of his era – and the difference-maker for the Denver Broncos for nearly a decade. In fact, a number of HOFers such as Mel Blount, Stan Jones, Mike McCormack, and more, insist that his talent and versatility helped change the modern game – from making the screen pass a more dangerous weapon to opening the door for smaller, multi-dimensional backs to flourish.
Also, without Little laying the foundation in Denver as the first #1 pick to ever sign, without his legendary Pro Bowl play, without his selfless commitment to the team and to the city in which he helped triple the fan base – when they were on the verge of relocating – the history of the Denver Broncos would have ended over 40 years ago.
What Seniors Candidate other than Floyd Little could this apply to:
“Without (Seniors Candidate), the (City/ Team) would not exist today.”
“I’ve seen some great players during my 40 years in the NFL. I played with Gale Sayers and I would put Floyd Little in the same class with Sayers. Floyd was one of the greatest players I’ve ever been associated with – and let me tell you – I saw a ton in 40 years – I played 13 years and coached for 27. Floyd was an all-time best.
“I spent a year with the Redskins, playing with Bobby Mitchell and Charley Taylor – and if Floyd had played on a team like that he would have been off the charts. I mean, look how unbelievable he was by himself.
“The thing that is so amazing about Floyd Little’s career is it (the Broncos) wasn’t a good football team he was playing for. We didn’t have much talent, so he didn’t have much to work with. When he ran, he was pretty much on his own. We didn’t have the offensive personnel that many, many teams have that have great running backs. So the fact that he was able to be so productive was unbelievable. He was just an amazing player.
“We sure kept Floyd busy. He was on the field all the time. He played every down even special teams. Along with returning punts and kicks, he was even on punt coverage. Can you imagine running backs today being asked to do all that? I don’t think there are players in the NFL talented enough to do all that Floyd did.
“Quarterback-wise, we didn’t have any Sonny Jurgensen or guys like that to help Floyd in Denver. It’s like a ‘Who’s Who’ of football to name all the quarterbacks Floyd played with in just those first few years, and all those different players we had here. It’s just amazing the numbers Floyd put up. I can’t say enough about him. He was the best.
Stan Jones continued . . .
“Most people don’t know this about Floyd, but on top of being a great all around player, he was such a great blocker that on passing downs we had him switch positions with the fullback so he could block the quarterback’s blindside. Usually during a pass play, it’s the big back – the fullback that blocks the blindside. But Floyd was always the better blocker, so we had him switch. I don’t recall ever a half-back being the better blocker, but that was Floyd. We made him switch to take on the tougher assignment. That’s how complete of a player he was.
“Not only was he an amazing player, Floyd was a great leader. We named him captain as a rookie. That’s how impressive his leadership was, and he remained captain every year. He kept this team together. When I came out here in 1967, this team was a hodge-podge of people. All kinds of guys released from NFL teams. Guys no one wanted. Guys I didn’t even think were still playing.
“Floyd was the first #1 pick, I think, we ever signed. We drafted a lot of great ball players, like Dick Butkus, Merlin Olsen that we were never able to sign. Floyd was our first premier guy that we were able to sign, and he proved to be a super choice.
“When I came out in ’67, we weren’t even sure we would stay in Denver. They thought maybe we would go to Birmingham or somewhere else. The owners got together with investors to improve the stadium and get fans interested. I was like, ‘Why did I ever come out here!’
“Floyd became the difference-maker that kept us in Denver. He literally saved the Broncos from extinction. He was the catalyst that got the fans to vote to expand the stadium. One of the first publicity shots was Floyd on a white horse. People loved it. He really wanted to help keep the Broncos in Denver, so he went out and met the fans.
Stan Jones continued . . .
“He went everywhere. He got on a bus and went to Wyoming, Nebraska you name it to meet fans. Floyd gave the fans and the city hope. Everyone rallied around him. He was the catalyst that helped sell out the new stadium.
“Of all the 40 years I was in football, my fondest memories are those early years with the Broncos. Remember, we were in a division where the other teams all had future Hall of Fame coaches and players: Just look at the coaches – Hank Stram, Sid Gillman, John Madden and before him, Al Davis.
“Yet there was a feeling of hope and togetherness in Denver. We just didn’t have the talent. We were like the PS 35 team. Lou Saban would chew out the players, but it never bothered them. They would go out and practice hard and I credit Floyd as the guy who kept the team together. He would make speeches to the team, and get them to stay after practice. Got them to work harder. He was a real character guy.
“Our practice facilities were probably the worst in the league. We had water rats in the locker room. Our offices were these makeshift huts. Floyd could have looked at this team and said, ‘This is B.S., I’m out of here.’ But he never did. He stayed and really saved this team. Think about it – a guy like Floyd Little, an all-America from Syracuse, to come to Denver. If he had gone to an NFL team in New York or someplace, he would have been a household name.
“Floyd would have had even more impressive numbers somewhere else, and been in the Hall of Fame years ago. There is no question in my mind. But he sacrificed all that and stayed in Denver. He was the difference-maker. Just look at the Broncos now!
“Floyd could have asked to be traded, but he never did. I don’t think the Broncos would still be here if it wasn’t for Floyd Little. That’s the honest truth. Everyone in Colorado appreciates that about him. I really can’t say enough about Floyd Little. The Hall of Fame is tainted without Floyd.”
“I consider Floyd Little the first triple-threat running back of the modern era. He had that type of impact. He was the first back that was a real threat running, catching passes, and returning kicks.
“He gave defensive coordinators nightmares. Teams were always trying to figure out how to stop him. As a player, you had to know where he was on the field the whole time. Floyd could run tough up the middle or beat you around the corner. He could catch passes out in the flat, over the middle, or down the sidelines. For a small back, he had a lot of power and amazing moves.
“We always had a tough time against Denver. We played them a lot early on in my career. Floyd was a guy every team would have loved to have on their team. He was the one guy our defense always talked about and the guy coaches drilled into our heads. We knew we had to stop him. But even with all that preparation, he always had great games against us.
“You ask guys from our team or guys from our era about Floyd. Everyone in the league respected him and we knew the caliber of player he was.
“Floyd should have been in the Hall of Fame a long time ago. It’s shocking he is not in there. Really, why isn’t he in, because he didn’t win any championships? That’s not his fault. He carried that team. Floyd was a triple threat and a consensus Pro Bowler. I think he opened the doors for a lot of smaller guys and teams looking for multi-dimensional players like him. Floyd was a trailblazer, a really special player.”
“Floyd ran the ball, blocked, was a great receiver out of the backfield, and even played special teams. People forget but he was a tremendous punt returner. And he always returned kickoffs. He could do it all and, quite frankly, did it all for the Broncos.
“One of the things that impressed me about Floyd was his consistency. I played against a lot of backs that would play hard one week and not show up the next time. Floyd was a competitor. When you got on the field to play him, man, you had to play the whole game. Some guys you could tackle them hard in the first quarter, second quarter. By the third quarter they were in the hole. Not Floyd. He was a tough back. He ran hard and then he had deceiving speed. Very elusive.
“I used to like to cover him because he was such a challenge. When he went out for a pass I would tell him, ‘I got you big boy’ and man, it was tough covering him. But that’s the way I liked to play, and Floyd was the same. There were very few players like Floyd. He was a competitor and everyone on the Chiefs respected him.
“He’s a Hall of Famer, hands down. To think John Elway is the only Bronco in the Hall. Well, Floyd should have been in a long time before. I think one of the problems is there are a lot of writers who vote for the Hall who never saw Floyd play. They just look at raw numbers and compare them to today’s guys. That’s a mistake. Totally different game today. Our guy, Larry Johnson, I mean, he ran the ball over 400 times this year. That’s like having the luxury of playing two seasons at a time. What happens now is there are players that carry
Bobby Bell continued . . .
the ball so many more times during a season then backs from my era. So they’ve got more yards. But it’s impossible to compare eras. They run the ball a lot but they’re not asked to do much more.
“The NFL doesn’t have backs like Floyd anymore. Today’s backs are called versatile if the catch the ball and run the ball. But do they also return punts and kickoffs? I don’t think so.”
“I would put Floyd Little as one of the Top 10 running backs to ever play. He was that great. I would put Floyd up there near Gale Sayers, who I consider the very best. I never got to play against Jim Brown in the regular season. But I played against Floyd and I just thought he was an incredible back.
“We played Denver a lot, and that was back when you didn’t have a lot of substitution. I remember Floyd was always in the game. He was such a complete back. He ran back kicks, caught passes, blocked. He did it all. He was a real difference-maker for the Broncos.
“He had some great moves, and that was without the benefit of playing on Astroturf. He could do so many things well, like Lenny Moore, and had moves like Barry Sanders, but made the same cuts on grass and mud.
“I remember I had to cover him going out for passes and I just prayed that we got to the quarterback before he got open. Floyd was a phenomenal playmaker, a guy everyone feared, and a real smart player.
Dave Wilcox continued . . .
“Floyd was always the focus of our game plan. It didn’t seem to matter much, because he still had great games against us. He was so tough to stop. And remember, the Broncos weren’t very good back then. It was easy to focus solely on Floyd. Can you imagine what he would have accomplished on a team like the Packers?
“I don’t know why he continues to be overlooked for the Hall of Fame. I’ll tell you this – if we players had a vote, Floyd Little would be in Canton.”
“Floyd Little absolutely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. He is one guy the Hall of Fame forgot about, I think, because the Broncos didn’t win any championships. He’s a Hall of Famer, no question.
“When we played the Denver Broncos, Floyd was the guy you had to stop. We had to know where he was on the field at all times. That’s how dangerous he was. Stopping him was difficult because he could do so many things. The Broncos relied on him to do it all, because they didn’t have other guys.
“The thing that impressed me about Floyd was that even though he wasn’t an imposing guy, he was deceptively quick and strong. He wasn’t very big and didn’t seem to be lightning fast. But, he had great moves and had enough power that he could run over you. You would think you had him then wonder, ‘How did he do that? How did he knock me over – how did he get away!’
“Floyd was extremely tough to contain. He could run inside, outside, block, catch passes, and make people miss. I knew he was an all-star in the AFL and heard what a tremendous player he was. Then after
Joe Greene continued . . .
the merger we got to play Denver a number of times, and I also played with Floyd in all those Pro Bowls. He was a hard worker. A real pro and carried himself like a Pro Bowler should.
“Floyd always had big games against us. He was one guy who really frustrated our team, just ask other guys on our team. He was one of my all-time favorite players.
“Just look how productive Floyd was throughout his career. Especially when you look at what kind of team he played on, it’s just amazing he retired as one of the Top 10 rushers (7th all-time) in history. That’s some feat.
“Floyd would definitely get my vote for the Hall of Fame.”
“I wish we could have acquired Floyd in Miami, I’ll tell you that. I don’t know what the criteria is for the Hall of Fame, but if someone asked me if Floyd was worthy of the Hall of Fame I would say, ‘Yes.’ Having played with him for three years in college, I saw up close the kind of competitor he was. And then I witnessed it from the opposing sideline in the NFL. He is definitely the caliber of running back that should be considered for the Hall of Fame.
“I’ve been asked to give my opinion about the players I’ve played against from time to time, but I’ve never had a vote. I do know this: there are people that are competitors that earn the right to go into the Hall of Fame. Then there are people that ride in on the laurels of others. Floyd Little earned every yard he ever gained in the NFL. He not only retired as the 7th leading rusher in NFL history, he earned
Larry Csonka continued . . .
every step of it. He paid the dues that were connected with that kind of title. Based on that, he should be considered for the Hall of Fame. I’m sure one day, he’ll get in.
“I think winning teams have players that are given more consideration than great players who are stuck on a team that’s not a Super Bowl threat. I think that’s where Floyd’s at.
“The thing about Floyd, he was more than just a running back. He was a tremendous punt returner, a great kickoff returner, a talented receiver and a superb leader. He not only was the Broncos star, but he was the leading voice of that team. He was captain of our Syracuse squad and, as you mentioned, he was captain all 9 seasons with the Broncos-even as a rookie.
“Well, I’m not surprised at that at all. He was not your every day running back that put in a full day and took his lunch bucket home. Through his heart and soul, and any endeavor he ever undertook, he was the type of guy that finished things and always went the extra mile. That didn’t change after he retired, because he’s become a successful businessman the same way. He lives his life by a pretty strong code.
“I have the utmost respect for Floyd. I would certainly look forward to Hall of Fame functions more if Floyd Little was there.
“I, on the other hand was afforded great teammates, who helped me get into the Hall of Fame. Floyd earned everything he got on his own. He could walk into the Hall of Fame knowing he doesn’t have to thank anyone. I know he wouldn’t do that. He’d thank a lot of people. But, I know the truth. I was fortunate to be surrounded by great people who marked the path and helped me get to Canton and ride in on their shoulders. That is a reality. Floyd didn’t have that kind of support. He earned it all on his own.”
“Floyd Little deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. He was an amazing player. Not only was he a gifted runner and receiver, he was incredibly smart. You couldn’t cheat one way or the other with him because he would beat you every time. He was the consummate professional. I looked forward to the Pro Bowl, so I could finally be on his team.
“Floyd was a rare back who could do everything well – even block. One time I was coming off the edge on a blitz and I thought I had an open shot. Floyd came out of nowhere and really stuck me. Wham! He wasn’t the biggest guy, but he was so smart and tough. He’s the most complete back I ever played against.”
Jimmy Johnson, 49ers
“I’ve never had a chance to meet Floyd Little. I only know what kind of player he was on the field. To me, Floyd has to be considered one of the best running backs to ever play the game. Some of the early teams he played on, he really made all the plays himself. He created plays where there was nothing. He would angle in the line and there was no where to go other than what he could create. He did a lot of bouncing it outside, then that would break off and he had the ability to double back.
“Floyd had this tremendous zig-zag style. He would create where there was nothing, but he ran with purpose. And Floyd could really bring it to you if he caught you right in the hole. He could flat out – with the weight he was carrying, which wasn’t a heck of a lot – run over a guy pretty physically. Because of his stature some defenders didn’t give him the full credit he was due at first, but they found out
Jimmy Johnson (49ers) continued . . .
quickly when he ran over them. Floyd got better as the game wore on because now they were giving him his due, then he could break it outside and take it 70-80 yards for a TD, like he did to us a few times.
“Floyd was also a great short-yardage runner too. There are a number of plays he made in my memory bank where he scored touchdowns going tough into the gun barrel, pushing hard in there, and then pushing it to the outside. He was so good at creating sometimes guys would expect him to juke and dive, and instead he would just turn on the afterburners and it was curtains.
“As a pass receiver, Floyd was a great swing guy out of the backfield. He was so smooth you can tell it was something he worked on pretty diligently. I remember him catching many of those swing passes out in the flat. Once he got out there he created enough space to work with and, well, the rest was history.
“Without a doubt, Floyd Little is worthy of the Hall of Fame. He was that kind of caliber player. People where I live now, I could mention ‘Floyd Little’ and they still remember him. The name Floyd Little conjures up football. I mean, I considered myself an excellent conditioned athlete. I think that allowed me to play for so long. I felt like when I hit the field I was the best conditioned athlete out there. I could run all day with anyone. Well, when I think about Floyd, I think about the same thing. He was one of the best conditioned running backs on the field, 24-7. That’s another thing that always impressed me about Floyd Little.
“Floyd Little and I started in the NFL at the same time in 1967. He was the first pick to sign with the Denver Broncos and I was an assistant with the Raiders.
“He was a nemesis for the Raiders for years and years. You know, Denver wasn’t a great team back then, but Floyd Little was a great player.
“We would go in there and play them twice a year and he was really a complete back. He could run with it, he could block, he could catch it; he could do everything with it. He was always a problem for us with the Oakland Raiders.
“I had the opportunity later to meet Floyd Little. He was a Pro Bowl player and I coached in the Pro Bowl. You play against Floyd and you say, ‘We gotta stop this guy, we gotta stop him!’ Then you have an opportunity to coach him and you say, ‘Wow, now he’s on my side.’ It was a great experience. Not only was he a fine football player, but he was a really fine gentleman.
“Floyd was a great player and a Hall of Fame-type guy.”
“Floyd played against a lot of great teams during his era. But Denver wasn’t a great team, so that put a lot of pressure on a guy like that. Teams could totally focus on stopping him. Floyd did a great job. He just never got the Hall of Fame attention he deserved.
“I remember him as not only a great runner, but a damn good receiver too. He wasn’t one of those guys who came out of the backfield and just clapped his hands. He did a great job at catching the ball and making something happen. He was just a really great player and a tremendous team guy.
“Floyd was really quick and had a lot of unbelievable moves. Sid (Gillman) used to say, ‘If he leaves don’t waste your breath trying to chase him, because you’ll never catch him. Your best bet is to wait, because he’ll be back.’
“But when I think of Floyd I remember a guy who was a great runner and unbelievable receiver. There weren’t too many guys like that back then. And today, there aren’t many guys like him either.
“When it comes to guys like Floyd, you look at the numbers he put up against the teams and guys from his era. Floyd put up some Hall of Fame numbers on a team where he didn’t have much help. Floyd was one of the top guys during his era and he certainly deserves Hall of Fame recognition.
“The thing that puzzles me is how do guys like Floyd get missed?”
“Floyd was the kind of performer where you had to be at your best. When playing against most running backs, you had to determine how much error you could be off and still make the play. With Floyd, you had to be right the first time. You couldn’t be off or he’d make you pay.
“Floyd was a very special player. I have a ton of respect for the way he played the game. He is definitely worthy of consideration.”
Nick Buoniconti (2009)
“Floyd Little was a gamer. He was everything he was supposed to be coming out of Syracuse – talented, tough, a real impact player. He had it all. I remember Floyd as a guy who played hard for 60 minutes. He was an every-down guy. A tough competitor, a guy who played hurt – a truly great player.
“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. He was the difference-maker in the Broncos winning or losing games. If you could stop Floyd Little, you stopped the Broncos.
“When you talk about guys that should be in the Hall of Fame, Floyd is one guy who has definitely fallen through the cracks. It’s a shame he is not in.”
Nick Buoniconti continued . . .
(1975 letter to the editor of the Miami Herald by Nick Buoniconti)
“The article written by Edwin Pope about Floyd Little is a refreshing breath about a refreshing man.
“I have known Floyd Little since he joined the Denver Broncos from Syracuse University and found him to be an exceptional person on and off the field.
“There has never been a game where Floyd Little has not set an example or a record. In his early years, he was hampered by knee problems, but somehow always managed to don a uniform on Sundays to wreak havoc on the opposition.
“I always dreaded seeing him come out of the backfield on a pass pattern or get the hand off from the quarterback, always wondering how I would ever stop him. No matter how bruised and battered he was after a game, he always managed to find me in the middle of the field to say hello and ask about my health.
“In this day and age when some players wrestle to keep their privacy, Floyd Little became a symbol shedding his private life for kids who so desperately need him. He found that in order to put meaning into the words that he so eloquently spoke to the kids that he needed to put action into these words. He did this through the many programs which he headed and, because of such programs, he was named Citizen of the Year in the Denver area.
“Floyd has embarked on a new career, that of a lawyer because again he felt, as a lawyer, he could help the people who needed him most.
“He is a person that all children can look up to and the parents can honestly say, ‘I hope my child grows up to be like him.’”
“Floyd Little was an excellent player. He was all the Broncos really had back then.
“Floyd was an outstanding runner, terrific receiver, and a player you did everything you could to help contain him. Honestly, I can’t think of another player that we ever worried about.
“When we played the Broncos our defense built its entire game plan on slowing him down. He was the Broncos offense. He carried the load for that team for many years – they called on him to do it all – and boy he did. I’m surprised he lasted as long as he did.
“Hank Stram had the highest respect for Floyd Little. He really admired him. We all did. Floyd Little was the Denver Broncos for many, many years.
“He’s an outstanding candidate and worthy of the Hall of Fame. I’m not sure why he’s been overlooked. Maybe it’s because Denver had a losing record or maybe they think there are too many offensive players in the Hall.
“Whatever the reason, Floyd deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.”
“To me, Floyd Little was one of the finest running backs I ever played against. He was an outstanding runner who always hit the hole just right, and was tremendous at cutting back.
“He was the one guy we had to stop when we played Denver. They didn’t have a great team back then, but we really had to contend with him every time. I got to play with him a number of times in the Pro Bowl, so I know what it was like to have him on my team. He shouldn’t be denied for the Hall of Fame.”
“Floyd was a great, tough running back that everyone in the league respected. He was dangerous every time he carried the ball. We played the Broncos a lot when I was with Houston. Floyd was the guy we had to stop. It was difficult to get a clean shot at him. He had this unique zig-zag style. He could reverse field and make people miss.
“In my mind, Floyd definitely should be considered for the Hall of Fame. He’s very deserving of the honor. When you think of great running backs from that era, you think of Floyd.”
“I played against Floyd Little late in my career, but I could tell right away that he was going to be a great one. He had so much talent. I think Floyd was the type of talented AFL player that made the NFL take notice – he was that kind of impact player.
“The things I remember most were his small stature and his elusive style. Floyd was a small back but had bowed legs. He really stuck out. You noticed his size right away. Plus, he was a really nifty runner who could do so many things. I wouldn’t classify him as just a ‘runner’ because he could do every thing. He was a threat every time he touched the ball. Floyd could score anywhere on the field – returning kicks, catching the ball (boy, he had great hands) and running.
“He was one of the premier backs of the AFL, and he got even better after the merger when my playing days were over. He went up against those NFL teams and showed he could take it to another level. He led the league in rushing a couple times after the merger.
“Floyd was one of my favorite players to watch. It was really exciting to be on the sidelines to see what he could do, because as I said, he could score anywhere on the field. I remember we beat Denver in Buffalo his rookie year, but the following year in Denver they beat us 34-32. You always remember the games you should have won, and we should have beaten them. We lost because of Floyd Little. He was the difference. Floyd had an exceptional game. He was all over the field – returning kicks, making big runs, and at the end with the game on the line, Floyd teamed up with Marlin Briscoe, catching that long pass that won it for them.
“When it comes to the Hall of Fame, Floyd Little should definitely be included with the rest of us in Canton. He has been overlooked, but you can’t overlook his contribution. When you look at the production he achieved despite playing on a team like Denver, he was an exceptional player during our era and performed consistently game, after game, after game.”
“Floyd Little is definitely deserving of the Hall of Fame.
“In my opinion the thing that makes a true Hall of Famer is someone who consistently performs at a very high level game after game, year after year. It’s someone who performs at a high level in the first quarter, second, third, and fourth quarter. A person that plays hard every play, a person that has earned the respect of the guys who play against them. Someone who is a difference-maker. Floyd Little was that kind of player.
“Floyd came out of Syracuse highly touted in the long line of #44s who played there. But he was a small man in a big man’s game. He was kind of the Rodney Dangerfield of the top running backs because he played on a team, the Denver Broncos, that wasn’t very good. So he never got the respect of the national media that he deserved. But somehow despite his size and the team he played for, Floyd managed to be productive and be the grease that made the Broncos go. Whether he was returning kicks, rushing for the tough yards on the ground, or catching passes – Floyd was one of the best and most consistent running backs of our era.
“In my mind, regardless of whether you play football, basketball, or baseball, consistently performing at a high level is what separates a good player from a Hall of Fame player. Floyd consistently performed at a Hall of Fame level.
“I hope the Hall of Fame looks at what a guy like Floyd brought to the table: his track record, his consistency, and his impact to the Broncos organization. For a long time, he carried the Denver Broncos. Guys like me who played against him in the NFL knew that. We had the highest respect for Floyd.”
“Floyd was one of the smallest backs in the league, but he could do it all. He was a talented guy that was one of the top 2-3 backs in the league. Like me he led the NFL in rushing. He could catch the ball and make big plays downfield. He could pass block and lead block when he wasn’t carrying the ball. And he returned kicks and punts.
“The thing people forget is we played in an era where every yard was tough to get. The hash marks were a lot closer to the sidelines, not near midfield. That made a big difference when defenses knew half the field was cut off. Also, more substitution was allowed then. Some teams had 13-14 defensive guys on the field right before a play. So they could see the formation and be better prepared to stop you. Today you can’t do that.
“I know those teams Floyd played with at Denver had losing records. But, Floyd never gave up. He ran tough in the first quarter and the 4th. When you look where he finished his career (7th all-time) and the teams he played on, he had a remarkable career. In my mind, he’s a Hall of Famer. No question. Hopefully the writers will elect him.”
“Floyd Little and I were rookies the same year in 1967. Since we were in the same division, I got to watch him play his entire career. He was a great, great player and I’ve often wondered why he hasn’t been considered for the Hall of Fame.
“I know whenever we played Denver guys like Willie Lanier and Bobby Bell studied him closely. They knew he was ‘The Guy to stop.’ (Hall of Fame coach) Hank Stram wouldn’t let them forget it. He’d always tell them, ‘Whatever you do, keep the ball away from Floyd Little. If he gets the ball, you better surround him and stop him.’ That was tough, you know, considering Floyd also returned punts and kickoffs. So Stram would tell me the same thing, ‘Kick it away from Floyd!’ He was an incredible return guy. He was always on the field. Very durable. Great stamina. Our team just had tremendous respect for Floyd, on and off the field. One of the great quality guys in the league.
“The thing is I know it’s tough for guys from my era to get Hall of Fame consideration. Gaining 1,000 yards back then was a big deal. It was tough and Floyd was one of the great ones. I think he led the league a few times. So you’ve got to compare Floyd with the guys he played against, not with today’s runners. He was just a great, great football player and the Hall of Fame needs to look at his accomplishments carefully.”
“In 1967, 68, and 69, Denver did not have a good football team and, if I recall correctly, we generally not only beat them, but trounced them. I recall our Head Coach, (Hall of Famer) Sid Gillman, telling the team that Floyd Little was a guy who could beat a team by himself, because he was on the field so much as a kickoff and punt returner and a running back. Sid said Floyd did not have much support so we had the luxury of giving him special attention.
“I remember that, in one game, Sid assigned one of the linebackers to Floyd and told him: ‘You go where he goes. If he goes right, you go right; if he goes left, you go left; if he goes to his bench, sit next to him.’
“Floyd was a special player. There is no other way to describe him. He never took a vacation during a game and played as hard at the end as he did at the beginning. He had both special skills and special character.”
“When players are evaluated for Hall of Fame consideration, I believe it is important that they be evaluated on the basis of how much they dominated in their playing era. Floyd Little dominated in his era and should be given serious consideration for the Hall of Fame.”
“The Broncos were never a great team, but Floyd Little proved to be a great running back. He became a highly regarded Pro Bowl player and respected captain. He gave his all for nine seasons, like I did. When he retired, he was the NFL’s 7th all-time rusher.
“I’ve said for years that Floyd deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. There’s no question in my mind that he’s one of the game’s greatest players. Just ask anyone who ever played with Floyd. They’ll tell you he was a pro’s pro and a true legend who probably did more for the team he played for, the Denver Broncos, than any single player did for his own team.”
“I had a lot of admiration for Floyd Little. He had a great reputation and was a fantastic player.”
“Floyd Little was an outstanding NFL player for the Denver Broncos and deserves to be the first Bronco inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Floyd’s statistics are impressive enough to place him in the Hall. He ran with a special grace like a Gale Sayers.
“I urge you to give Floyd what he deserves – his place in the Hall of Fame. It took me 20 years, please don’t make Floyd wait any longer. If you can’t find space for Floyd Little, please take me out of the Hall of Fame and put him in.
“NFL players who played with him and against him know that he belongs on the ultimate team. Let’s do what’s right and validate the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a real institution that makes decisions based on performance.”
“I remember Floyd Little as a very talented running back and a great person. We came up in the league at the same time. He was one running back that you never looked forward to playing against. He had the respect and admiration of everyone in the league.”
“We cherish the moments that you gave us at Denver as a member of the Broncos. A leading member of the community and, of course, a great football player, you probably played a greater role than anyone in the history of the Denver Broncos franchise. Today they average 74,000 fans a game. That wasn’t the case before you got there Floyd.”
(Oct. 29, 1972 in a letter from Rozelle to Floyd Little)
The final sentences of your article in today’s PRO! Magazine bears repeating. In part, you point out that football has been tremendous to you, that you enjoy everything associated with football, and that the game doesn’t owe you anything.
‘Floyd Little Day’ in Denver provides this office with the opportunity to state publicly that football does owe you something. It owes you a sincere thank you for being part of the game. We salute you for the many memorable feats on the playing field and the numerous civic and charitable activities that have made you a credit to the Denver Broncos, the National Football League and the entire Rocky Mountain area.
Best wishes for continued success.
“If there was one thing that ever brought around parity in the NFL it was guys like Floyd Little. He got out there in the tough days. He got out there when it hurt. I recall many games when Floyd Little shouldn’t have been in the huddle, but was in there to play. He was the kind of player that brought about the great game that we have today.”
“He has to be considered one of the great running backs of our era. I know our defense had a lot of respect for Floyd Little. When it comes to the Hall of Fame, I listen to players. When I got inducted in 1987, I was surprised to get the call. So I asked one of our writers who votes on the Hall of Fame-Edwin Pope-how do you go about picking these guys? He said, ‘I can’t speak for other guys, but I would go into a locker room the week before a game and ask coaches and players who they have to control to win this game this week. The guy they spoke about the most, that’s what I used as a gauge.’
“So with that, I know when we played the Broncos back then, Floyd was the guy we had to stop. We had to take him out of the game. For example, I don’t think our defense ever gave up 100 yards to OJ Simpson in 18 games. That wasn’t by accident. We treated Floyd the same way. We were committed to stopping him, neutralizing him and taking him out of the game. Easier said then done.
Jim Langer continued . . .
“Picking the Hall of Fame, the thing about it now, is there is a big subjective part of it. Someone might have the numbers like Floyd, but like Bob Kuechenberg, who in my opinion, was as good as me, are overlooked. With guys like Floyd you should also consider what kind of reputation he had around the league? Was he respected on and off the field? I can tell you, people really respected Floyd Little. He was a real professional. I think the Hall of Fame should be more like baseball and consider not only performance on the field, but what kind of person you were off the field in the community as well.”
“Floyd Little was a great running back. Not only that, but in Denver he was really the only offensive threat they had. He was a true star. A real hero. I had friends in Colorado who spoke highly of him, about his impact to the team and the entire region. He kept that franchise going during the tough years.
“Floyd was one of the top running backs of his era. Like all of the great ones, Floyd could do everything well. I remember playing him and watching a lot of film on him. He was a talented runner who could run with power inside and had the speed to take it outside. He had quite an arsenal of moves. Terrific out of the backfield on passes. He was the Broncos playmaker for years and years. In my opinion, Floyd is one of those great players that have been overlooked for the Hall of Fame.”
“Floyd and I came into the league at the same time. I got to see him play a lot early on when I was with the Chargers. I thought Floyd was just an outstanding running back.
“We used to talk after games and call each other ‘Cuz’ because of our name. But, he was a great back. He had this slashing style and with those bowed legs he was tough to bring down. I could see defenders get frustrated, because he had this ability to make guys miss. Plus, he could run over guys too, which was impressive since he wasn’t the biggest guy in the world.
“He was an all-around back. Great runner, blocker and catching the ball out of the backfield. Back then he was the Broncos star. They weren’t a very good team. (Hall of Fame coach) Don Shula would point that out to us when we played Denver. We tied them up there in Denver once when (Lou) Saban was coach. It became known as the ‘Half-a-Loaf’ game because after the game when asked about why he settled for the tie, Saban said, ‘Half a loaf is better than none.’
“Like every time we played Denver, Floyd was the guy our defense had to stop. There aren’t too many teams where you say, ‘Stop this one guy and you’ll win.’ But that was the case with those Broncos teams then. When you think about how teams focused on Floyd whenever they played Denver, and the plays he continued to make and the yards he racked up, I don’t see why he shouldn’t be considered for the Hall of Fame.”
“Floyd Little was a tremendous player that followed in the footsteps of Jim Brown and Ernie Davis at Syracuse. He went on to have a great career with the Broncos.
“I wasn’t aware he retired 7th all-time in rushing. That’s really something considering the Broncos weren’t one of the better teams.
“I think the Hall of Fame should find a better way to make sure guy’s from that era who played on bad teams are recognized.”
Bud Grant (1972)
“That Little is some back, isn’t he?” Bud Grant to reporters after Floyd Little rushed for 100-yards and scored 3 TDs, including a 36-yard TD reception during a regular season game against the Vikings
“Floyd Little was a great player, a durable, multi-talented back that the Broncos relied on to do a lot of things. He was undersized and took a tremendous beating, but every time you looked up he was on the field. He had that kind of durability. That’s how you categorize greatness. He was a real difference-maker.
“I think maybe he’s been overlooked for the Hall of Fame because he was so versatile. Sometimes the versatile backs get overlooked, I think, because (voters) only look at rushing stats. Plus, he played on a losing team and I bet very few writers today saw him play.”
“Floyd was a great player – no question about it. The thing that’s been keeping him out, I believe, is he played during a time when Denver wasn’t very good. They didn’t have a lot of talent and (voters) prefer guys who played on championship teams.
“I know players all respected him and the fans in Denver were crazy about him.”
“I consider Floyd one of the greatest backs of our era. He was a high impact guy – the same caliber of running back as Walter Payton. He was just an outstanding back.
“We only played Denver a few times, but I remember Floyd as a tough, tough back. He was a real challenge to contain and played much bigger than he was. Floyd wasn’t a big guy in stature, but he displayed real power and quickness – extremely tough to tackle.
“I remember playing them at Mile High once in a wild, tough game. We really had trouble stopping Floyd, because he was everywhere – running and catching passes. He must have put up some big numbers. I remember getting hurt in that game when one of his teammates rolled over my leg.
“I have a ton of respect for Floyd. He has definitely been overlooked for the Hall of Fame.”
“Floyd Little was an unbelievable running back that absolutely should be in the Hall of Fame.
“For as long as I can remember, Floyd was the Denver Broncos. He was the team’s only star for years and years. Seriously, where would Denver be today without him? Offensively, he was the only guy you worried about because there was nothing he couldn’t do. He was a complete player. Everyone respected Floyd in a big way.
“I mean, look where he retired – as one of the all-time greats. That says a lot when you consider those Broncos teams back then.
“Floyd should have been in the Hall of Fame years ago. He definitely has my vote.”
“I think Floyd definitely had a HOF career with the Broncos. He is one guy who has been overlooked.”
“I’m surprised Floyd Little is not already in the Hall of Fame. He was an outstanding player.
“In my opinion, Floyd was as good as I’ve ever seen at perfecting the screen pass. He helped establish it as a dangerous play – with his ability to encase the pass and turn it into a game-breaking play. He was just phenomenal at executing that play – and he did it against us (the Eagles) at Denver in the snow. I remember we got snowed in after the game.
“Floyd was so great at the screen we practiced all week against it. We knew it was coming and we still couldn’t stop it. Denver called it late in the game when we had them pinned back in their territory. Floyd caught a pass in the flat and weaved his way through our entire defense – all the way for the winning score.
“I think it was his last game because the fans carried him off the field.
“Besides being a complete every-down back, the thing that made Floyd so special was his eyesight. He had the vision that all the great ones have. Like Jim Brown and Gale Sayers, Floyd was one of the few backs who could see the entire field. You could tell he could see the whole defense, the cuts, how a play was supposed to unfold. He was a multitalented player, truly outstanding.”
“I didn’t get to see Floyd Little play till near the end of his career, but he was still a great player. I remember Floyd as a tough runner, receiver who could still break tackles.”
“Floyd Little should be in the Hall of Fame. He has all the qualifications you look for in a Hall of Famer. So many running backs are one-dimensional, but Floyd was a multi-dimensional star. He was a high-impact player who played every down. A complete back – a phenomenal runner, kick returner, and a huge threat catching passes out of the backfield.
“He had a unique style all his own. I loved watching him play. He’s one of those guys that you look at and wonder, ‘What are the Hall of Fame voters waiting for?’ He has better stats than a lot of guys who are already in. So I believe he will be standing beside his bust in Canton soon. He deserves to be there.
“He and I came into the league at the same time in 1967. In fact, we played our first game against each other. It was a preseason game at Mile High Stadium and the Broncos won. It was the first time an AFL team beat an NFL team. I knew right away he was going to be a star just like he was at Syracuse. I think if Denver was a better team back then, Floyd would probably have been in (the Hall) years ago.”
“I first met Floyd during our college days when we were on a number of All-America teams together. He was an outstanding player, a real gentleman, a quiet guy, but someone you really respected. He brought that same talent and humbleness to the pros as evident by his multiple Pro Bowls, rushing titles, and reputation.
“There’s no doubt Floyd has the credentials to be a Hall of Famer. He has been unfairly snubbed for years, I believe, because he never played on a great team.”
“To me, Floyd was just an outstanding football player. He was a little guy but extremely fast and quick. He could run tough inside and hit the outside with tremendous speed. But the thing I remember about him was his ability to catch the ball. He had terrific hands and was a dangerous pass receiver out of the backfield or across the middle.
“He was kind of a one-man show there in Denver. Even though he was the star halfback, he returned kicks too. He was always on the field.
“When I think of Floyd Little I think of a complete player. I remember Weeb Ewbank wanted him badly. But, Denver got him and always had big games against us. He also was a tremendous individual off the field. I think when you consider someone for the Hall of Fame you should also consider what type of person he is and how much he was respected by other players. Floyd was that type of player. He’s certainly worthy of the Hall of Fame. He should have been in a long time ago.”
“I was asked for my opinion a few years ago by the Seniors Committee and frankly I was shocked that Floyd Little wasn’t already in the Hall of Fame.
“I think it’s an injustice that he’s not in. Floyd was one of the true stars of my era. On top of being an outstanding running back, he was a great receiver who also returned kicks, like I did early in my career.
“I played against Floyd a lot in the Pro Bowl and just thought he was outstanding. His accomplishments are definitely worthy of the Hall of Fame. He deserves to be in there absolutely.”
“I always had the highest regard for Floyd Little. He was a tough guy, a great runner. Someone we always had to account for all the time. Floyd always made the big play when we faced Denver. Our team looked at him as a consistent, sturdy guy who always had a lot of strength and stamina. He was one of the top runners in the league for years. I was happy just watching him.
“We faced him twice a year and he was always their big threat. In fact, I don’t think any team ever had it easy with Floyd. He caused a lot of problems for a lot of people.
“I consider him a Hall of Famer. He’s got the numbers and the respect from guys he played against. I think after the years, those numbers lose their luster because the game’s changed so much. The yards were tougher to get back then. Gaining 100 yards was a big deal. The hashmarks were closer in. Defenses could do more to you too-things that would get a flag on every play today. Those guys really earned it.
“And you have to remember, during our era all the defenses in our division were tough. Ours, KC’s, Denver’s defense was solid with Rich Jackson, Paul Smith, Lyle Alzado. San Diego’s D was terrific too. So that’s eight games right there where Floyd and I knew we’d be tested against excellent defenses. Also, when he wasn’t running hard, he was lead-blocking on all those plays when the fullback was carrying the ball. I don’t recall him standing on the sidelines much during a game. That doesn’t happen today. Floyd’s a Hall of Famer in my book.”
“Floyd Little was one tremendous bowlegged runner (laughs). He came out of Syracuse and carried the grand tradition of #44 – Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little. Quite a trio.
“He was a real impact player when he got to the pros. I consider Floyd one of the all-time greats. Unfortunately he went to a poor team. He didn’t get the recognition he deserved. There was nothing Floyd couldn’t do with a football. He was a gifted runner, receiver and kick returner. He was exciting to watch. He was a leader and a winner.
“Floyd performed as well as any running back in the Hall of Fame. The guy who went in recently – Thurman Thomas – Floyd was a lot like him. Both were tough inside-outside runners, and dangerous receivers.
“I think Floyd was a more complete back than Thomas though. Don’t think Thomas returned kicks liked Floyd did.
“Floyd should be at the top of the list on the seniors committee. He deserves induction. His numbers are as good or better than guys already in there. He was a tough, productive playmaker. He carried the Denver Broncos for as long as I can remember. I have the highest respect for Floyd.
“As a rookie with the Broncos in 1983 it didn’t take me long to learn about Floyd Little and his tremendous impact on the Broncos organization. After all, Floyd retired as the 7th all-time rusher in NFL history. More than that he was the Broncos first superstar, a 5-time Pro Bowler, a great humanitarian who immersed himself in charities on local and national levels, and the main reason the team was still called the ‘Denver Broncos,’ not the ‘Birmingham Broncos’ or the ‘Chicago Broncos.’
“In 1967 his signing as the franchise’s first No.1 draft pick finally squashed rumors that the team was relocating to another city. It started a love affair between the fans of Denver and the team’s new star, contributing to the expansion of Mile High Stadium and years of sold out Broncomania. As a result, Floyd aptly earned the nickname, ‘The Franchise.’
“Years later, after the Broncos finally got over the hump and beat the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII, I couldn’t help but fully appreciate the contributions of Broncos players from the past. None stood out more to me than Floyd’s contributions. So I made a special effort to thank him when I saw him soon after that Super Bowl victory. ‘Floyd,’ I said, ‘because of you, the Broncos are Super Bowl champions. If not for you laying the foundation so many years ago, this city would never have had a championship.’
“As the only Denver Bronco to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I am proud to be the first. But there are a lot of Broncos who deserve to be immortalized in Canton. Floyd Little leads that list and is long overdue.
“In my opinion, Floyd Little is the greatest Bronco of us all.”