MHR's Forgotten Broncos -- Floyd Little

Welcome to the newest segement of Broncos History.  A special thank you to TrinidadJack for coming up with the name of Forgotten Broncos.  I decided the best way to kick off a topic like this was to feature an article written by someone who lived through the experience.  Floyd Little was thee Franchise while John Elway was making the difficult transition from running back to quarterback in pop warner.  I understand many of you would take offense to Floyd Little being considered a Forgotten Bronco, but the point of this series to keep the memories of these past Broncos alive and well in the Bronco consciousness.

 

Simple stats or awards does not do justice to what Floyd Little meant to the fans and the city of Denver, so I hope you enjoy this article written by firstfan as much as I did.

 

Floyd Little

by firstfan

Let’s begin this story of Floyd Little and the Denver Broncos in 1965. For in that year the most important event in the history of the Broncos took place. In 1961 Gerald Phipps headed a syndicate which purchased the Broncos from Bob and Lee Howsam. Four years later several minority partners formed a majority voting block with the intent of selling the Broncos to a group from Atlanta. But at the last minute Gerald, who had been omitted from the voting block, along with his brother Allen stepped forward and bought the team and Bears Stadium. The franchise had been saved. All current, past, and future Bronco fans owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the Phipps. The first outward expression of what was later called Broncomania was demonstrated by the people of Denver and the Rocky Mountains. In appreciation to the Phipps, season ticket sales grew from less than eight thousand to twenty three thousand the following year. This was only a whisper of the Rocky Mountain Thunder to follow.

Meanwhile at Syracuse University a rather smallish 5’ 10” bow-legged running back by the name of Floyd Little was carrying on the storied traditions of #44 at Syracuse. Little not only wore the jersey made famous by Jim Brown and Ernie Davis but he ended up breaking many of their records as well.

The Broncos were still not completely safe at this point. The NFL hated the AFL and ridiculed them at every opportunity. The biggest laughing stock was the Broncos. East coast media called them the “Denver Donkeys”. I know that MNBronco means no offense when he occasionally refers to the Broncos as the Donks but I hate that term and always will. The AFL fought for collegiate players and while they didn’t land too many they did get a few big names and more than anything they drove the price tag for talent way up. In an attempt to keep salaries down the NFL agreed to a “Common Draft” with the AFL. The Common Draft only lasted three years, 1967, 1968, and 1969.

The path of the Denver Broncos and Floyd Douglas Little finally converged when Denver selected him as the sixth player ever selected in the Common Draft.  I think that Floyd was the first number one draft choice ever signed by the Broncos. He certainly had the biggest impact. While the people of Denver loved their Broncos and supported them through all the bad times (there were very few good times) they were beginning to wear thin. Rumors of the team moving had resurfaced. The presence of #44 on the roster changed all that. Any time Floyd Little touched the ball excitement filled the air. Following are the statistics compiled by Floyd during his nine year career with Denver.

                                Photobucket

 

As impressive as these numbers are they fail to adequately describe Floyd Little as a football player. The following are some of my observations of Floyd Little as a complete player:

  • Power. Floyd was a powerful runner that could not be tackled with an arm tackle. If you did not get a helmet on him and wrap up immediately he would be long gone. Floyd had extremely strong legs and could drive the pile forward an additional two or three yards every play.
  • Speed. Floyd was fast, but more importantly he was quick. He had almost instant acceleration.

  • Elusive. He was not a quick-cut runner like Barry Sanders but he could make tacklers miss just enough so that he could break the tackle and get away. In his elusiveness I think he was more like Gale Sayers. Speaking of whom, Floyd played against Gale while he was at Syracuse. Gale was a consensus All-American and perhaps the most famous college player of that time. Floyd was a sophomore (freshmen were not allowed to play varsity in that era) that no one had ever heard of. Floyd scored five touchdowns and rushed for 159 yards on only 16 carries. They heard of Floyd Little that day.

  • Blocker. If you look at the statistics above you will see Floyd only averaged 182 rushing attempts per year. Tailbacks did not get 400 to 500 carries per year like they do today. They blocked! You can bet that if Fran Lynch got a nice gain Floyd had delivered a crushing block to help.

  • Durable. Floyd Little was the original battery bunny. He would take a pounding and just get up and keep playing. Floyd Little was tough.

  • Vision. Floyd had that unique gift of being able to see the entire field at once. His cut-backs were legendary.

  • IPS. A few weeks ago Spock posted a great fanpost on a quality he called IPS or Information Processing Speed.  I read that post and jumped up and said “That’s it!!” That is what Floyd Little had. This combined with his vision of the field and his speed, elusiveness and power made Floyd Little really fun to watch. He only needed a little room to move. This made him particularly effective with draws and screens.
  • Character. The attitude of some of the most gifted players of today contrasts with that of Floyd Little. There was no “Give Me the Damn Ball” mentality from Floyd. He was and always will be a consummate team player. He was a solid special team contributor until the day he retired. He didn’t do a dance or choreographed end zone celebration. He handed the ball to the referee. You knew he had been in the end zone before. Floyd gave to the community. In 1974 he won the Whizzer White Humanitarian Award for community service.

This gives you an idea of what kind of a player and man Floyd Little was and is. Now inject this man into the struggling Denver Broncos in 1967. Fans loved to watch #44. The merger with the NFL was drawing closer and one requirement was that every team had to have a stadium that would hold 50,000 fans. The City of Denver bought Bears Stadium in 1968 and re-named it Mile High Stadium and expanded it to seat 50,000. Floyd Little filled that stadium. Floyd Little became “The Franchise”. If Yankee Stadium is “The House that Ruth Built” the Mile High Stadium was most certainly the “House that Little Built”.

Floyd Little led the NFL in rushing for the six year period from 1968 to 1973. He retired as the seventh leading rusher in NFL history. He rushed for 6,323 yards and 54 touchdowns. He won the AFC rushing title in 1970 with 901 yards. The following year he rushed for 1,133 and led the entire NFL. He was an American Football League All-Star in 1968, named first team “All League” in 1969 and made the Pro Bowl in 1970, 1971 and 1973. He was the smallest back to lead the league in rushing since before WWII. He led the league in combined yards in 1967 and 1968 and was the only player to return punts for touchdowns both years. From 1968 to 1973 he led the NFL in rushing yards and yards from scrimmage (rushing and receiving). In 1972 the Professional Football Writers of America voted Floyd the Running Back of the Year. A biography of Floyd sums it up best. “Incredibly, despite spending most of his career as the lone offensive threat on a loosing team, he was one of the most explosive offensive threats of his time”.

Floyd Little has never been named to the Football Hall of Fame.

Last year Guru wrote a piece on Floyd that is a whole lot more concise than this. It has some outstanding comments by Trinidad Jack. I urge you to read it here.

There is also a petition circulating to give to the selection committee to persuade them to vote Floyd in. Please sign this.

Lastly, I recommend an excellent book. It is called Tails From the Broncos Sidelines. It is written by Floyd Little with Tom Mackie. It has a foreword by John Elway and the preface is by Jim Brown. It is a great read for all Bronco fans.

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