An accomplished high school athlete, Little felt that his academics needed refinement to compete in the classroom at the best colleges.
“I went on to a military school [Bordentown Military Institute] and learned to do the necessary things that were important in terms of discipline, integrity and character — all of those things that are intangibles,” Little said.
Thanks to his efforts, Little earned a full scholarship to Syracuse, where he was given one of the ultimate honors in college football in the 1950s and ’60s. Syracuse awarded him jersey number 44, the number that Jim Brown and Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis had worn for the Orangemen.
At a time when freshmen could not play varsity football, Little became a three-time All-American running back at Syracuse. By doing that, Little joined a select group that includes Doak Walker, who starred at Southern Methodist University in the 1940s.
In a twist of irony, it was Walker, then a personnel man for the Broncos, who scouted Little for the Broncos.
But meanwhile, back in Denver … it was early 1967 and the Broncos had just completed their seventh straight season without a winning record. The Phipps brothers, who owned the team, had hired Lou Saban, architect of back-to-back American Football League championship teams in Buffalo, to build the Broncos. This would be the first step toward a semblance of respectability, before the playoffs could even be considered.
The merger of the American and National Football Leagues had begun to take place, and while all AFL teams were to go into the NFL, a huge condition was that every franchise must have a stadium that seated at least 50,000 people.
Prior to this, the team played in a minor league baseball park, Bears Stadium, which was half made of wood for football and only seated 35,000 fans. On March 17, 1967, metropolitan Denver voters turned down a stadium bond issue to build a suitable new stadium.
So this was the situation into which Floyd Little was drafted.
The East Coast native recalled his reaction to the news of being drafted by Denver. “I was not happy. I could not believe it when I got a call from Lou Saban that they had drafted me to the Denver Broncos. I was like, ‘You have got to be kidding me.’
“I could not believe it ’til I flew out to meet Lou. I was just amazed and fell in love with Denver the first day that I saw it.”
And Denver fell in love with him right away, too.