The Centennial Soapbox

Yesterday, the Pro Football Hall of Fame veteran's committee took a monumental step in correcting a couple of mistakes that have been made numerous times over by the Hall of Fame voters. The committee anounced its two nominations for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the 2010 induction. The two names are Dick LeBeau and Floyd Little.

Both men are long overdue for Hall of Fame induction. Lebeau's resume as a player and a coach speaks for itself, and I'm not going to say too much about him. I never had the privilege of seeing either player play football other than the occasional classic NFL Network moments, but what LeBeau accomplished in his time as a player is remarkable. 67 interceptions is a monumental feat for a career, and his coaching career deserves stand-alone Hall consideration.

The player that I really want to talk about, though, is Little. Being a Denver Broncos fan, I can tend to have a jaded view of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and more specifically, the Hall of Fame voters. It's a mindset of Broncos fans. For whatever reason, there seems to be a bias against Broncos players getting into the Hall of Fame. It's not just a strict "east-coast bias" either. For proof, the Kansas City Chiefs have had 7 players inducted, as well as founder Lamar Hunt and coach Hank Stram. The Oakland Raiders have had 11 players inducted alongside owner Al Davis and coach John Madden. The San Diego Chargers have had 7 players inducted. Of those franchises, only the Raiders have a level of success that is comparable to that of the Broncos throughout the franchise's history. However, the Denver Broncos have had a grand total of just 2 players inducted to the Hall of Fame, and of those two, John Elway was the only one that spent a majority of his career in a Broncos uniform. Gary Zimmerman played more years in Minnesota than Denver, but went into the Hall as a Bronco out of loyalty to owner Pat Bowlen. Suffice it to say that the ill-will in Denver toward the Hall of Fame is not undeserved.

The 44-person selection committee can help rectify some of that by voting yes on Floyd Little next January. Little was the Broncos original franchise player. So much so, in fact, that it earned him the nickname "The Franchise" in the 1970's. It can be argued that Floyd Little is the reason that the Denver Broncos are still the Denver Broncos. When he came out of Syracuse in 1967, the Broncos were on the verge of moving out of Denver due to financial struggles. Bears Stadium (later renamed Mile High Stadium) needed to be expanded in order to sell enough tickets to make the team financially viable. Little signed with the Broncos, and fans couldn't wait to see him play. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say that Floyd Little is the reason that Mile High Stadium became what it was and that fans in Denver fell in love with the Broncos. He was the original Denver Broncos superstar.

Little was one of the first "multi-purpose" running backs in NFL history. He ran. He blocked. He caught the ball out of the backfield. He returned kicks. He ran some more. In fact, by the time he retired from the NFL, Floyd Little was 7th all-time in rushing yards (the six guys ahead of Little at the time - Jim Brown, Jim Taylor, Joe Perry, OJ Simpson, Leroy Kelly, and John Henry Johnson - are all in the Hall of Fame). Even in those days, everyone in the media had labeled him a "future Hall-of-Famer". When it came time to consider Little for Hall of Fame induction, everyone figured he'd get in after a few years. It became a constant theme: "Wait for next year". The problem was, next year never came. Now, 29 years later, Next Year is finally next year for Floyd Little.

As a fan of the Denver Broncos, I can only hope that this opens the door for more Broncos to make it to the Hall of Fame. A case can be made that it was fitting that John Elway, the Duke of Denver, was the first, but Floyd Little should have been the first. Randy Gradishar should have been next. There are many others that arguably belong in the Hall of Fame - Dennis Smith, Louis Wright, Steve Atwater, Karl Mecklenburg, Shannon Sharpe, Terrell Davis, Rod Smith - it's a long list of Broncos. Maybe the voters will shut Little out, but it's doubtful, as 16 of the last 18 veteran's committee nominations have been inducted. All we can say is, it's about time. Here's hoping that the next crop of Bronco Hall of Famers don't have to wait as long as Little did.


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