Sports

Little goes a long way

By CASEY OLSON

Sports editor

Floyd Little still looks like he could light up a middle linebacker, bounce to the sideline and outrun a safety into the end zone — even at 61 years of age.

“I’m in pretty good shape,” Little said. “220 pounds.”

The five-time Pro Bowl running back with the Denver Broncos is more than willing to talk about his nine seasons in the National Football League. Shaking defenders in front of a frenzied Mile High Stadium crowd are accomplishments the Federal Way resident holds near and dear.

“I was a big part of their history,” Little said. “I still get cards from all over the world and requests for autographs.”

But, unlike some of his retired NFL compatriots, Little has moved on with his life post-football. The past is just that — the past.

He now owns two car dealerships, Pacific Coast Ford in Federal Way and another in West Covina, Calif., and earned his law degree from the University of Denver. He has raised three children, one is a lawyer in Los Angeles, another is currently pursuing a doctorate degree at Georgetown and the other is currently performing in the Broadway musical “Aida” with Elton John in New York City.

“I’ve been pretty lucky,” Little said. “But most people are not willing to sacrifice to succeed.”

He was willing 13 years ago when he moved to Federal Way. Little’s jounrney to the area and Pacific Coast Ford came about in a strange way. Following his playing days, Little was living in California and was hired by NBC as a color commentator. He was assigned to the expansion Seattle Seahawks.

“It was different,” Little said about Seattle. “I enjoyed it. It was warm, in terms of people. I didn’t like California, in terms of congestion on the freeways. I moved here in 1990 and love it.”

That is when the Ford dealership became available and he jumped at the chance to buy it. He runs his businesses like he played football. Drive, determination, dedication, desire, commitment and sacrifice are the words Little lives by.

“Those are the only things you need to know,” he said. “You need to understand those six words and harness them and you will succeed.”

Little definitely succeeded on the gridiron. His zigzag runs through the snow at Mile High Stadium made him one of the top running backs of his era (1967-75). After walking away from professional football, Little was the sixth leading rusher in the NFL’s history with 6,323 yards, behind only Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson, Jim Taylor, Joe Perry, Leroy Kelly and John Henry Johnson. All six are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. In fact, there are eight modern-era running backs in the Hall with fewer yards.

“I can’t figure out why I’m not in,” Little said. “I’ve been asked many times why I’ve been omitted.”

There is currently a push underway to get Little into the Hall. The Atlanta Falcons and the Broncos are the lone established NFL teams with no Hall of Famers and many in Denver want Little to be their first. But to be the first Bronco in Canton, Little will have to be elected this summer.

John Elway, the longtime Denver quarterback who led the Broncos to their only two Super Bowl titles, is a lock to be enshrined into the Hall next year. In 2004, Elway will have been out of football for the required five years.

Later this month, the Hall of Fame Seniors Committee, a group of five sportswriters, will convene in Ohio to choose one Seniors nominee from a list of players from the pre-1979 era. Little has been eligible for induction since 1981, five years after he retired, but has never been nominated — moving him into the Seniors category.

Little’s career statistics compare with other running backs in the Hall of Fame. Among the 38 Hall of Fame backs, Little would rank 15th in rushing, 10th in receiving, third in kickoff returns and fourth in punt returns.

To illustrate the dominance Little had on the NFL, all you have to do is look at his rushing numbers from 1968-73. During those six seasons, he led the entire league in total rushing yards.

Little was also one of the best college running backs of his era. He was a three-time All-American at Syracuse, following in the footsteps of Jim Brown and the late Ernie Davis as superstar tailbacks for the Orangemen. Little shattered most of the records set by his two predecessors, rushing for 2,704 yards, returning punts for 845, kickoffs for 797, and passed for 19 — for a grand total of 4,947 yards. He also scored in 22 of 30 regular-season games, including five times in one game, while wearing the same storied number 44 as Brown and Davis.

But Little was always overlooked by the national media following his NFL career because the Broncos were a bad team year in and year out. In his nine-year career, Little’s Broncos went 47-73-6 and never made the playoffs.

“The losing was difficult,” Little said. “But I have no regrets. I played for a team that I loved with the best fans in the world. I am a big part of their history. I was a leader and I pushed myself.”

Little’s number 44 currently hangs high atop Mile High Stadium in Denver as one of the four original Ring of Fame inductees in 1984. “The Franchise,” as he was called, was the first No. 1 draft pick ever signed by the Broncos and finished his career as the top rusher on the franchise’s all-time list for rushing attempts (1,641), rushing yards (6,323), rushing touchdowns (43) and total touchdowns (54). He now ranks second in all, having been surpassed by Terrell Davis.

“It is a different game now,” Little said. “It used to be a big deal to gain 1,000 yards in a season. When I first went over 1,000, I was only the 13th player in NFL history to do it.”

For example, during the 2000 season, 23 running backs went over 1,000 yards compared to only two in 1970. The current 16-game schedule, compared to the 14 when Little played, is the major reason for the yardage differences, but Little sees today’s players as superior athletes.

“They are a lot faster,” he said. “The league is more competitive now. There is a lot more parody and that makes the game a better game to view. I really like how the game has evolved, except for one thing. I don’t like the lack of loyalty to a team and the fans. The city used to get a chance to know the players because they lived there.

“When I was in Denver, that is all they had. There was no basketball, hockey or baseball. The fans felt some ownership in that team. They knew you in and out of uniform.

“I still get recognized when I go down there.”

Even at the age of 61.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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