Hall of Fame Broncos running back Floyd Little and two of his best friends and former teammates, Tom Jackson and Billy Thompson, toured the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (All photos by Ben Swanson)
CANTON, Ohio —** In February of 2010, legendary Broncos running back Floyd Little got a phone call from Vice President Joe Biden, the first of two stunning calls that week. The vice president's Secret Service detail was skeptical of his assertion that he knew the soon-to-be Pro Football Hall of Famer, so he gave Little a call.
"Floyd, I'm sitting here with eight Secret Service guys and they say I don't know you," Vice President Biden said, as Little recalls.
The two had gone to Syracuse University at the same time, as Little said in his reply over the phone. "I told you," Little heard Biden say as the vice president chastised his doubtful security members.
"I know both Beau and Hunter, your sons," Little continued.
"I told you!" Little heard Biden say again in the background.
"Thanks," Biden said after catching up with his friend, who had just been elected to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "Good luck and congratulations," and then once more in the background: "You guys don't know I know Floyd Little!"
Shortly afterward, another Joe called up Floyd Little. This time it was Joe Greene, the dominant defensive lineman who was inducted into the Hall of Fame after a 12-year, four-Super Bowl career with the Steelers.
"Floyd, congratulations on being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame," Greene told him, Little says. "I want you to know in my 15-year career you were the best overall player I have ever played against. I'm not talking about the best running back, I'm saying the best player."
The call left Little awestruck.
"I was just so emotional after hearing that from one of the greatest players who's ever played," Little said on Friday.
Little returned to Canton, Ohio on Thursday, just like he does every year. This year marks the fifth anniversary of his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction and with time it's grown to have an even more profound emotional impact than in 2010.
When he was first added to the annals of football history for his professional career, Little knew it was the pinnacle of his football days, but the effect didn't quite hit him. The Pro Football Hall of Fame's mission statement—"to honor the heroes of the game, to preserve its history, to promote its values and to celebrate excellence everywhere"—was recited, Little didn't quite feel it fit him at the time.
"It never really resonated with me. But the statement is to honor the heroes of the game. I'm one of those people that the statement is talking about," Little said in a hushed tone, as if in sudden realization of his massive accomplishment. "I mean, my history, my likeness, my voice, my legacy would be here in eternity, that you could come and that you could hear me and you could see me. I mean, for all the fans and the friends and the family, my great-great-great-grandkids will be able to know who I was. That's the preserving the history that promote the values of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which is integrity, which is courage, communication or commitment, respect and excellence."
But mostly what he's found with his induction into the hallowed ground in Canton over the past five years is a sense of belonging — a family. And the past two days that he called "two of the greatest days of my life" have reinforced that feeling.
"[Deacon Jones] used to always say 'You belong to a team now where you can't be traded,'" Little recalled his fellow Hall of Famer saying. "'They can't cut you, they can't fire you and even in death you're still a Pro Football Hall of Famer.' All of these things today and yesterday, it's starting to mean something more to me because I look out at the Hall of Famers — some of my heroes of the game, some of the guys I admire — I'm a part of that family."
With his induction in 2010, Little received his gold jacket. Stitched inside it is the number 257, his enshrinement number. And whenever he looks at that number he realizes what a small group he's a part of.
"There's no words to truly describe the emotions and the feelings that I have about being on this elite team," Little said.
Truth be told, the significance of the achievement is a bit overwhelming for him. Instead of just Floyd Little, now he is Hall of Famer Floyd Little. With the stature afforded to a Hall of Famer comes the recognition of the standard he must uphold.
But it's given him one of the best experiences of a lifetime, right up there with those he's spent with his wife and children and a personal tour of the White House by Vice President Biden.
"He wrapped his arms around me and my wife and he gave us a tour of the White House. We were his guests," Little said. "That is significant for a guy who was born in Connecticut, had all the challenges in the world without a dad and to wind up in the most prestigious sports fraternity that ever existed."
Ultimately, Canton has become Floyd Little's second home.
Every year his Pro Football Hall of Fame family has a reunion in the small Ohio town and when he arrives at the Hall, he always receives a warm greeting but it's not "Welcome back, Floyd."
It's "Welcome home."