DENVER — Here’s to you, Floyd Little.
On a day when Broncos Country learned the player simply known as “The Franchise” has been moved to hospice care after months of trying to battle a rare form of cancer, Little’s former team ran for 189 yards in a 20-13 upset victory against the Miami Dolphins.
Afterwards, Broncos’ head coach Vic Fangio gave one of the team’s game balls to Little and his family.
"'We did. We talked about him, one of the all-time greats in Broncos’ history,'" Fangio said. "Number 44, I remember him as a kid growing up. I was an Eagles fan growing up but from afar I was a Floyd Little fan, too. We did get him one and we are going to get it sent to him."
A former teammates at Syracuse, Patrick Killorin, announced on his Facebook page Saturday night that Little has been placed in hospice. Little’s wife DeBorah confirmed the news on her Facebook page early Sunday morning.
"Floyd's doctors determined that his cancer treatments were not performing well so they discontinued treatment and strongly recommended hospice care," DeBorah Little wrote. "He has been under hospice care for two weeks and two days. As for the question, "How is Floyd?" ... taking it one day at a time."
Little, who turned 78 on the Fourth of July and made Las Vegas his permanent home a few years ago, was the Broncos’ first superstar after he became the team’s first, first-round draft pick to sign with the AFL franchise in 1967. He led the NFL in rushing in 1971 with 1,133 yards in a 14-game season and from 1968-73 he led all players with the most combined yards (rushing and receiving) from scrimmage.
His No. 44 is one of only three Broncos’ players honored with retired numbers – John Elway’s No. 7 and Frank Tripucka’s No. 18 are the others – and after a 30-year wait, Little was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
"It’s about time," said then Vice President Joe Biden, who also attended Syracuse, where Little starred for three seasons when he was bestowed the famous No. 44 worn previously by Jim Brown and Ernie Davis.
Randy Gradishar, the inside linebacker who anchored the famed Orange Crush defense in 1977 and its surrounding years, overlapped two seasons as Little’s teammate in 1974 and ’75.
"He was the old guy, I was the new guy and during practice and the games is where his leadership came out," Gradishar said in the Empower Field at Mile High press box prior to the Broncos-Dolphins game. "I remember him walking by and encouraging the defense. He was that mainstay. The statistics, that’s all great as a Hall of Fame football player but Floyd as a human being was in the same kind of category. Friendly. I don’t remember him at practice hollering at anybody. He was always encouraging. So he was a very good football player but also a very good human being, too. I’m sorry to hear this of Floyd."
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