Former NFL star, SU legend visits Fort Drum
August 15, 2012
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- As Syracuse University's football team kicked off a week of preseason camp Monday at Fort Drum, former Denver Broncos sensation and Pro Football Hall of Famer Floyd Little traveled with the Orange and met with Fort Drum leaders and community members.
Little, a three-time All-American running back with Syracuse University in the 1960s, works at the college as a special assistant to the athletics director.
"You know what that means?" the Syracuse football legend said with a chuckle. "I do anything that he don't want to do."
Little was the Denver Broncos' first-round draft pick in 1967. He quickly excelled, and by 1971, Little had become the first 1,000-yard rusher in Broncos history.
He won the NFL rushing title the same year with 1,133 yards.
During a three-year stretch from 1971 to 1973, Little scored a combined 32 touchdowns by rushing and receiving.
By the end of his NFL career in 1976, he had amassed more than 12,000 all-purpose yards and scored 54 touchdowns.
In addition to the numerous NFL Pro Bowl appearances as a player, Little also staked out his place in sports history when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
Maj. Gen. Mark A. Milley, Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander, boasted of the legend's athletic prowess more than 35 years after Little retired from the NFL.
"This guy is 70 years old," Milley said to a group of reporters. "You know what he runs the 40 in right now? 4.9. And he is working on 4.7."
While playing in the NFL, Little ran the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds.
Little's greatness on the gridiron began at Bordentown Military Institute, a private school in Bordentown, N.J.
With nearly 50 scholarship offers after high school, Little narrowed his choices to Notre Dame, Syracuse and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
He said he leaned heavily toward the Army's Black Knights.
Little recalled the day he was ushered into the very lavish Waldorf Astoria in New York City, where Gen. Douglas MacArthur was waiting in a suite to meet the young athlete. Little was in uniform, so he stood at attention before the famous general.
Little said it was suggested that if he went to West Point, he had a good shot of becoming the first African-American general in the U.S. Army.
"The Army wanted me in the worst way," he said.
Little's experience with MacArthur was enough to convince him to take his talents to West Point.
But when he returned to his home in New Haven, Conn., later that night, college football great Ernie Davis and a few coaches from Syracuse University came knocking.
Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy and a running back as well, told Little's mother and sisters he was there to take Little to dinner.
The men ordered steak and lobster at a local restaurant before Davis asked Little to follow him to the restroom.
There, undisturbed for more than a half hour, Davis explained to Little how the Syracuse football coach hated throwing the ball, so he would have plenty of opportunities to run.
"I'm looking at my watch," Little said. "It's been over 35 minutes since we ordered. So my concerns now are that my steak is going to be cold and my lobster is going to be like rubber."
"'OK, Ernie,'" Little told him. "'I'm convinced. I'm going to Syracuse. Let's go eat.'"
Davis tragically died three months later at the age of 23.
"That sealed the deal," said Little, who told Syracuse's coach he would play for the Orangemen. "I don't own anything more valuable than my word."
After retiring from the NFL, Little would become a successful businessman. With his degree from the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law, he received corporate training before going on to own a successful car dealership on the West Coast.
He later became a Ford Motor Company consultant.
Before introducing Little to the press Monday, Milley offered Orange football players in the training camp some advice on how to "do battle."
Milley brought up last year's late-season defeats, and he said focusing on the past will cause a team to lose focus.
"You got to worry about today, tomorrow and the next day," the general said. "You got to worry about the next fight."
He told players that 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldiers know what it means to keep their focus on the job at hand.
"Kids your age are wearing this uniform, humping a rucksack and engaging in death-defying firefights with the enemies of our country," he said. "That's what you got to do when you go out on the playing field."
After the pep talk, Milley took questions from local media alongside Syracuse University football coach Doug Marrone.
In addition to connecting the "people's Army" with the people of northern New York, Milley said Syracuse University football will be a positive influence on Fort Drum and the North Country.
"The Syracuse football program is the premier football program in northern New York," Milley said. "This is a great opportunity for the Family Members and the Soldiers to come out and see some really talented, elite athletes practice their game and be encouraged and motivated to play local sports."
Marrone took time to thank Milley and the Soldiers of 3rd Brigade Combat Team for reinforcing everything coaches had been saying to the players about not dwelling on past mistakes.
"That's a very important message that has been delivered (here) from our friends at Fort Drum," Marrone said. "It's greatly appreciated, because that's the message we want our kids to understand."
Little, who once trained with Syracuse at an Air Force base in Pensacola, Fla., said military influence on college football players is invaluable.
"I think it's excellent," he said. "Football is one thing. Being in the military is something totally different. I cannot imagine that our men, after a week of this, don't become more mature, more experienced, more committed, more dedicated, understand what leadership is really about and become better players as a result."