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R.I.P. To "The Franchise" Floyd Little

ESPN - Pro Football Hall of Famer Floyd Little, known as "The Franchise'' in his career with the Denver Broncos, died on New Year's Day. He was 78.

Little had been diagnosed with cancer, which became public this past May, and was moved to hospice care in November.

"Floyd Little was a true hero of the game. He was a man of great integrity, passion and courage," Pro Football Hall of Fame president and CEO David Baker said in a statement. "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.

Little's family said in a 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.'

Little was enshrined in the Hall's Class of 2010. A three-time All American at Syracuse, Little is in the College Football Hall of Fame as well.

"I feel so blessed in everything, and as long as I can I will always come back [to Canton], and I always hope to see many more Broncos here with me as the years go by,'' is how Little put it in 2019 when both Champ Bailey and Broncos owner Pat Bowlen were enshrined. "Football has given me so much, and I will always try to give back in every way to young people who need our help.

They don't make them like Floyd Little anymore. 

Swagger off the charts but from all reports, and this and other NFL Films videos I've watched Floyd was ALWAYS smiling.

You don't get the nickname "The Franchise" by being a cream puff. You get a nickname that elite (I'd argue it's top 3 and that's with the disservice Steve Francis did to it) by being a badass. And when you think of a badass half-back you think of a trash-talking, scowling, diva. 

Not the nice friendly guy Floyd Little was.

He was also a stud on the field back when playing halfback/scatback was basically a backfield wide receiver or "pitch receiver" who'd run sweeps. The game wasn't the cakewalk it is today. 

Floyd still managed to put up 6,323 yards rushing and 54 total touchdowns (rushing, receiving and returns). He also threw for one and was the team's captains for all 9 years of his career, including his rookie season, which says a lot about the man's character.

Little was also a standout in college and perhaps the greatest athlete to matriculate through Syracuse University. - When he was a star at Syracuse, Little thanked his offensive linemen frequently. After touchdowns. After big games. And in between drives.

His friend and teammate Pat Killorin marveled that as Little was being driven to the stage to make his introduction speech at the NFL Hall of Fame, a moment many felt he waited far too long for, he stopped the procession in the middle of his moment just to thank them all one more time.

Little’s life was one of overcoming, and he never stopped appreciating those who provided help along the way.

In one of two books he co-authored with Tom Mackie, Little described growing up in two projects in Connecticut as one of six children raised by a single mother. His father, named after Frederick Douglass, died of cancer when Little was 6, forcing each member of the family to contribute to the unit’s survival. Little washed cars, shined shoes, delivered papers and worked in a deli.

School was initially a struggle and some adults questioned his abilities, resulting in a detour to Bordentown Military Institute after high school, where Little was the school’s first Black student and managed to navigate what seemed like a daunting SAT requirement.

His first roommate was a racist, a relationship that ended in a fight. His second, Herb Stecker, would be his roommate for the next four years and an admirer for life.

At 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, he was small for a running back in his era. He used the elusiveness that also allowed him to thrive as a kick returner, zig-zagging through many would-be tacklers. But he was surprisingly powerful, an inside-outside runner capable of plowing through many of the obstacles in his way.

He picked Syracuse from a list of 47 schools, including Notre Dame, which had set him up at Bordentown, because he made a promise to Ernie Davis.

Little followed the lineage of Jim Brown and Davis, three Hall of Fame running backs in just over a decade, who immortalized the No. 44 in both the school and Central New York culture. During his three seasons, the Orange went 22-10 with appearances in the Gator Bowl and Sugar Bowl.

Little became the only three-time All-American in program history, finishing fifth in voting for the Heisman Trophy twice. He scored five touchdowns in his first game playing in front of local fans, helping Syracuse beat Kansas and Gale Sayers in 1964. He led the country in all-purpose yards in 1965 with 1,990, the best in SU history. Little didn’t stop until he piled up 2,704 rushing yards and 35 rushing touchdowns.

“A three time, All-American at Syracuse University, Floyd was the most popular person on campus,” former teammate and New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said in a statement. “Everyone wanted to be his friend and every professor wanted Floyd in his or her class. He was the embodiment of positivity and humility. Floyd’s work ethic was beyond reproach. He worked hard in the classroom and on the practice field. It was an honor to have shared the huddle with such greatness. Floyd Little will forever be Syracuse’s MVP.

Little's character was actually played by Chadwick Bozeman in The Express.

After his NFL career, Little earned a Master’s Degree and owned businesses on the West Coast before returning to Syracuse where he was beloved for years, serving as a special assistant to former athletic director Daryl Gross and an ambassador to the school he loved.

Little was a charter member of the Broncos Ring of Fame in 1984, which included Rich Jackson, Lionel Taylor and Goose Gonsoulin. He was the first Bronco to win a rushing title, leading the AFC in rushing in 1970 with 901 yards and the following year he became the first Bronco to eclipse 1,000 yards, gaining 1,133 to lead the NFL. Little was the first player to lead his conference in rushing for a last place team and the 13th player ever in professional football to rush for at least 1,000 yards in one season. He was an American Football League All-Star in 1968. In a week 12 win over Buffalo, he caught 4 passes out of the backfield for 165 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown, setting a franchise record of 41.25 yards per reception that still stands. He was named first-team "All-AFL" in 1969, and made the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl in 1970, 1971 and 1973. At 5′10″ and 195 pounds, Little was the smallest back to lead the league in rushing since World War II. He led the league in combined yards in 1967 and 1968 and was the only player to return punts for touchdowns in both seasons. During a 6-year period, 1968–1973, Little rushed for more yards and more yards from scrimmage (rushing and receiving) than any RB in the NFL.

A life well-lived. 

Rest In Peace to The Franchise.

(p.s.- Denver fans owe the man a ton. Little was called "The Franchise" because his signing, when players could choose between the NFL and AFL, was credited with keeping the team from relocating in the 1960s to Birmingham, Alabama, and with helping to convince local voters to approve funds to build Mile High Stadium.)