Sports

Floyd Little: A Hall of Famer?

By CASEY OLSON

The Mirror

Floyd Little’s phone hasn’t rung yet.

But the Federal Way resident is still waiting patiently for a call that he knows might never come — a call from the Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. It’s a phone number every football player who straps on a pair of shoulder pads dreams about seeing pop up on their caller ID.

“We’ll see what happens,” said Little.

Many would argue that Little’s nine-year career (1967-75) in the National Football League with the Denver Broncos warranted enshrinement in Canton a long time ago. The running back’s statistics don’t lie. When Little hung up his cleats, he was the sixth leading rusher in NFL history with 6,323 yards. Little trailed only Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson, Jim Taylor, Joe Perry, Leroy Kelly and John Henry Johnson. All six are in the Hall of Fame. 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,” the five-time Pro Bowler said. “I’ve been asked many times why I’ve been omitted.”

Little’s career statistics compare favorably with all the running backs in the Hall. Among the 38 backs enshrined, Little would rank 15th in rushing, 10th in receiving yards (2,418 yards), third in kickoff returns (2,523 yares) and fourth in punt returns (939 yards).

But this might finally be the year that the coveted call from Canton comes.

Little will be notified later this month if the Hall of Fame is in his future when the Senior Committee, a group of nine sportswriters, convenes in Ohio to choose two NFL senior nominees from a list of players from the pre-1980 era. Little has been eligible for induction since 1981, five years after he retired, but has never been nominated — moving him into the senior category.

The committee will put together a list of 15 senior nominations, which will be pared down to two in January 2006. The final Hall of Fame selections for 2006 will be announced at the Super Bowl in Detroit. The 2005 class includes Dan Marino and Steve Young and a pair of Senior Committee nominees — Bennie Friedman and Fritz Pollard.

“I wrote all the guys on the (Senior) Committee a letter,” Little said last month. “I talked with one of them and he said, ‘I forgot all about you. I just assumed you were already in.’”

Little’s Hall of Fame case may have been hampered by the fact that the Broncos just weren’t a very good ball club during his playing days. In his nine-year career, Little’s Broncos went a combined 47-73-6 and never made the playoffs.

“Fair or not, you get more visibility from the writers if you are in the Super Bowl,” he said.

Visibility isn’t a problem when Little steps foot in Denver. To illustrate the amount of respect the Broncos’ first-ever No. 1 draft pick still generates, all you have to do is go back seven years. Following the Broncos’ first of two Super Bowl titles in 1998, Little received maybe the highest praise possible when he was greeted with a hug from John Elway in the lobby of a Denver hotel.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Elway said to Little before a celebrity golf tournament.

Maybe the greatest quarterback in the history of the NFL was thanking Little for being the first “Mr. Bronco” and bringing legitimacy and stability to the franchise during the early lean seasons.

Last year, Elway became the first longtime Bronco player enshrined into the Hall of Fame and Little was there watching with pride.

“I’m just delighted that John will be the first to represent us. Maybe after John, there will be a few others,” said Little, whose number 44 currently hangs high atop Invesco Field in Denver as one of the four original Ring of Fame inductees in 1984.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is about the only Hall Little isn’t already a part of. The owner of Pacific Coast Ford in Federal Way was also inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983 after a stellar career at Syracuse University from 1964-66 and is an honorary member of the American Football League’s (AFL) Hall of Fame. The Denver Broncos started as a member of the AFL, where they stayed through 1969, before incorporating into the NFL.

While at Syracuse, Little was a three-time All-American after rushing for 2,704 yards. He also scored in 22 of 30 regular-season games for the Orangemen, including five times in one game, while wearing the same storied number 44 as former Syracuse stars Jim Brown and Ernie Davis.

“A lot of people think I should have been in the Hall of Fame five years after my retirement,” Little said. “I didn’t think I was too bad for a guy who played for a team that wasn’t very good.”

So, for now, Little will continue to wait for that coveted call from Canton. He just hopes the wait doesn’t last too much longer.

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

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