Floyd Little, the New Haven native who became a star running back who starred at Syracuse and for the Denver Broncos, has died. He was 78.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame said he died Friday night at his home in Nevada. No cause was given.
“Floyd Little was not only a Hall of Fame running back, he was a Hall of Fame person,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “Faith, family and football were the pillars of his life.”
Little was a three-time All-American at Syracuse, where he wore No. 44 like Jim Brown and Ernie Davis before him. From 1964-66, he ran for 2,704 yards and 46 touchdowns.
Little was the sixth overall pick in the 1967 AFL-NFL draft. He played nine seasons in Denver, where he earned the nickname “The Franchise” because his signing was credited with keeping the team from relocating and helped persuade voters to approve funds for the old, iconic Mile High Stadium, which has since been replaced by Empower Field at Mile High.
“I know when I got there the talk was about the team moving to Chicago or Birmingham,” Little told The Associated Press in an interview in 2009. “So, I supposedly saved the franchise, and I think (former team spokesman) Jim Saccomano gave me that nickname. It’s been a part of my name ever since.”
Little was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
“Floyd Little was a true hero of the game,” said David Baker, president and CEO of the pro hall. “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.
A high school star in Connecticut at New Haven’s Hillhouse High, Little overlapped at Syracuse with U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who said in a statement Saturday the pair had become friends and often spoke by phone after Orange football games.
“He was full of character, decency, and integrity,” Biden said. “He was always gracious with his time with fans — parents and grandparents who wanted to introduce their children and grandchildren to a genuine role model.”