By Matt Nestor
The sun had gone down, the air had cooled down. We were in between moments that the entire crowd had shown up for.
Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith both entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year, and fans came in record numbers to see that happen.
Many forgot, but there were five other players inducted with those two all-time greats this year. Russ Grimm, Dick LeBeau, Rickey Jackson and John Randle went in with them.
As did Floyd Little.
I had been to the Hall before, but this year decided to make the trek for the enshrinement ceremony. Smith is my all-time favorite player, and he was the final speaker. He was the reason I, along with most of the crowd, was there.
But there was Little first.
With the enshrinement now a major television event, it was obvious Rice and Smith would be broken up to keep viewers tuned in. Little was used to break that up as filler.
Little is about as unknown a Hall of Famer as you can get. There were very few Denver fans around. Probably don’t need more than both hands to count how many Denver fans were there.
Little is the second-leading rusher in Denver Broncos history, and was a player ahead of his time in the 1960s. But he is also a player who had slipped through the cracks of history and was largely unknown by the crowd in Canton, Ohio.
But by the time Little had given his induction speech that Saturday night (Aug. 7), he had an entire stadium full of fans.
Little delivered one of the most passionate and inspirational speeches I, or anyone there, for that matter, have ever seen. He almost spoke nothing at all of his football days and what he accomplished. He was certainly grateful to be recognized forever as one of the greats of the game, but that is obviously not what is important to him.
More than anything, the induction speeches by all players were more a giant thank-you to all the people who helped them along the way—family, friends, coaches and teammates. It was a time to reflect on sacrifices made and praise the people who were there for them.
No one personified these thoughts more than Little. He started his speech off with a loud thank-you. He spoke glowingly of his family, taking the time to address each of his kids, as well as his wife, individually and with love.
He spoke of perseverance and leaving your legacy in this world. He encouraged everyone to give it the best that they’ve got. And what started as a spattering of cheers when he walked up to the podium was a long, boisterous standing ovation by the end of it.
Little spoke with such great passion. It was amazing to see a guy give his life story without really telling us about most of the reasons he was up there to begin with. But because of this unknown, all-time great, everyone who watched that speech is a little bit of a better person for it.
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From the Aug. 11-17, 2010 issue