Remembering Denver Broncos legend Floyd Little
2021 has already started out on a wrong foot for Broncos Country.
Hall of Fame halfback Floyd Little has died at the age of 78 after battling Neuroendocrine Tumors Cancer. Little passed away on New Year’s Day.
The family of Little released this statement:
"“The family extends their gratitude to all who have supported Floyd Little and his family during this time with prayers, calls and your heartfelt expressions of love” (via ESPN)."
Little was not only a vital part of Denver Broncos history, but is responsible for some of the franchise’s earliest history. Little was drafted to the club as the sixth overall pick in 1967, but was the first first-round draft pick to ever sign with the franchise.
Previous draft picks had chosen to sign with more established teams in the NFL, verses a young nuclear team in the early stages of the development of the AFL.
In his rookie campaign, Little led the league in punt returns, and was the leading league rusher in both 1967 and 1968.
In all nine seasons of his career, Little was a Denver Broncos captain.
Even more importantly, Little is widely known by Broncos Country as the man who saved the Denver Broncos. From the Broncos’ inception in 1960 up until 1967, the Broncos were just 26-69-3. With the Broncos’ early struggles, whispering of a potential relocation began to take place if the team could not improve their league standings and marketability.
Little made football exciting in Denver, and was the saving grace to the franchise. Not only did he do work on the field, he worked endlessly off the field to support the team that had drafted him.
"“They were talking about selling the franchise and moving to Atlanta or Alabama and there was a big push to save the franchise. That’s how I got the name, because I went door-to-door getting support from the people to get a new stadium. By going out and knocking on doors to raise all that support, they wound up as one of the top NFL franchises”, Little said in 2016 (via 9news)."
He was dubbed “The Franchise” for a reason, and it is a nickname that has lovingly stood the test of time throughout the years in Broncos Country.
Upon retiring in 1975, Little was seventh in all-time rush yards with 6,323 rush yards and 54 touchdowns. He was one of four founding members of the illustrious Denver Broncos Ring of Fame, which has added some pretty good company to surround Little, Goose Gonsoulin, Lionel Taylor and Rich Jackson over the years.
Exactly 30 years after he became eligible, Little was finally inducted into the Pro Hall of Fame in 2010. Little has also been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, and is hailed as a hero at his alma mater, Syracuse.
Little’s No. 44 is retired at Syracuse, and is one of just three jersey numbers retired by the Broncos, among the ranks of Frank Tripucka/Peyton Manning and John Elway.
Little was the first great player to be drafted by the Broncos, and his impact on the franchise and the city of Denver is immeasurable.
Take a look at the numerous divisional, AFC titles, and the three Lombardi Trophies.
Take a look at the solid decades of sellouts, and the 76,000 screaming fans that pack the stadium each week (pre-pandemic, of course).
Take a look at the growing Broncos Ring of Fame, and past and present Pro-Bowlers, All Pros, and Broncos punching their ticket to the Hall of Fame.
Take a look at the Orange Crush defense, the No Fly Zone defense, the historical 2013 Broncos’ offense, the hope that resurged in Denver when Peyton Manning signed as a free agent, or the thrill ride that was the Tebow era.
We can list the numerous successes of the Broncos all day, but the bottom line is this: none of this is possible without Little.
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Without Little, there is a good chance that this franchise goes belly up early on, and has to relocate, erasing decades of the passion we know and love that is the Broncos.
Little was a trailblazer, and kickstarted Denver’s path to becoming an established and well-respected franchise. He kickstarted their path to becoming a winning team. His talent and his passion for the team and city saved the Broncos.
No amount of thank you’s could ever be sufficient for what is owed to Little.
Pro Football Hall of Fame CEO sums it up well in his touching tribute to Little:
"“Floyd Little was a true hero of the game. He was a man of great integrity, passion and courage. His contributions off the field were even greater than his amazing accomplishments he did on it. Floyd’s smile, heart and character epitomized what it meant to have a Hall of Fame life.”"
We give a big Mile High Salute to the man who saved football in Denver, and to one of the earliest legends to showcase his talents in the Mile High City. Thank you, and rest in peace.