This weekend has been a great one for the entire Denver Broncos organization, its legions of fans and for the inimitable Hall of Fame running back Floyd Little.
The team’s open practice at INVESCO Field sat Mile High was a huge success, drawing over 20,000 rabid fans who enjoyed all aspects of the open practice, according to those who were there — I could not attend because I was in Canton, Ohio, at that time watching Floyd Little being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
His induction speech played on the Thundervision scoreboard at the stadium, and several thousand fans stayed after the practice to watch it.
For Floyd, for me, and for thousands of other fans of the Broncos whose loyalty goes back to the 1960′s, this was a great moment, long anticipated and ultimately full of all the richness which we expected it to have.
Floyd’s acceptance speech was hailed as the finest of the night in an evening that featured the induction of seven new members of the hall. This was no surprise to those of us who have known Floyd Little for a long time.
After the ceremonies, during the induction party for Floyd in a tent adjacent to the stadium in Canton, a euphoric Tom Jackson told me that someone from ESPN had expressed to him that it might have been unfortunate for Floyd to have his induction speech come between those of Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith. But Tom said he just chuckled and replied, “Wait until you hear Floyd speak.”
In addition, his presentation speech by son Marc Little was wonderful as well, focusing on how Floyd has long lived by the credo that he chooses to be an uncommon man.
He certainly has been uncommon in Broncos history, standing with John Elway as the team’s only Hall of Famers to have played their entire pro careers in Denver.
It was very emotional for all of us during the ceremony and in the party tent afterward.
I sat among Floyd’s family and friends, along with former Bronco general manager John Beake, ex-players Billy Thompson and Jerry Simmons, as well as national broadcaster Jim Gray. Author Thomas Mackie, a longtime Floyd booster, also was present, and among other Bronco alums who came for the Hall of Fame festivities were Fran Lynch (Floyd’s roommate for all nine of his pro seasons), Tom Graham ( top linebacker in his day and father of current Bronco Daniel Graham), and Mike Kellogg, a backup fullback in the late 1960′s who now is a judge in the state of California.
Of course, fellow Hall of Famer Gary Zimmerman was very prominent on stage with the other 80 or so returning inductees. Former Bronco Willie Brown, certainly much more famous as a Raider, was on the stage as a returning inductee as well. Willie was an All-AFL defensive back already when the Broncos traded him to Oakland.
Players know players, and they appreciate greatness as only fellow players can — it was great to watch as Hall of Famers came, one after another, to embrace Floyd with sincere emotion as he joined their ranks. He even got a shout out by video tape from one of his fellow players at Syracuse University, Joe Biden, who now happens to be Vice President of the United States. That was not a first time, by the way, as Vice President Biden mentioned Floyd during his acceptance speech at Invesco Field two years ago, noting that he always thought Floyd Little might be joining him on a presidential platform someday.
If that sounds like heady stuff, which it is, remember that General Douglas MacArthur personally got involved in recruiting Floyd for West Point. Floyd chose Syracuse because he had made a pledge to the late Ernie Davis that he would attend Ernie’s school. And Floyd Little never broke a promise.
But Floyd has never been just about being a player, and he had several hundred friends from outside of football who also made the pilgrimage to Canton to watch this moment in person.
The Bronco fans who watched him play always knew he was one of the game’s greatest players, but most had given up on the thought that this final justice would be served as so many years passed by.
But a moment that is meant to come comes someday, and this weekend in Canton is that someday for Floyd Little, the Broncos, and football’s greatest fans.
He has the yellow jacket, he has the bronze bust on display in the Hall of Fame, and on Sept. 26, when the Broncos host the Indianapolis Colts, Floyd Little will receive his Hall of Fame ring here in Denver.