Syracuse Football: Floyd Little is an Orange for Life

Syracuse football legend Floyd Little passed away at the age of 78. His life will be remembered in Orange history.

On August 28, 2020, legendary actor Chadwick Boseman passed away at the age of 43. The cause was colon cancer, although he kept it secret up until the day he passed, showing his toughness, character, and unselfishness above all else.

Four months later, on January 1, 2021, legendary Syracuse football running back Floyd Little died at the age of 78. Like Boseman, Little had cancer. Although his battle was public, he fought for over six months, before passing away on New Year’s Day in hospice care.

When Boseman passed, the world was shocked and saddened. It came nothing short of abruptly, with the Twitter-verse making his page’s post one of the most engaged with ever.

But before Boseman got his fame as the Black Panther, he starred in ‘The Express’, a film that followed the life and Syracuse football career of Ernie Davis. It was Boseman’s first major role in a film.

And in it, he played Floyd Little.

Little would follow in Ernie Davis’ footsteps as the next great running back at Syracuse. He wore the famed ’44’, first worn by Jim Brown, and then Davis, who passed it along to Little after recruiting him to SU.

At Syracuse, Little was a two-trick pony whose skills would’ve translated to the modern-day NFL. He played three years at Syracuse, never scoring less than 10 touchdowns in a season, and rushing for 2,750 yards in total.

But, he was also a threat to catch passes out of the backfield, making it hard for defenses to stop him. This was long before air-raid football had really made its mark, so Little’s abilities were hard-pressed second to none.

Little finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting twice and was drafted by the Denver Broncos with the sixth overall pick of the 1967 NFL Draft. He became the first draft-pick to ever sign with the Broncos and shortly thereafter started breaking records that propelled him into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2010.

Little often went under the limelight, competing with Brown and Davis, who could both be considered the best running backs of all-time at the pro football and college levels respectively.

But that didn’t stop Floyd Little from succeeding. Instead, he continued the tradition of Syracuse football running backs, with his name still all over the all-time Orange record book.

Floyd Little

(Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Now, with Floyd Little gone, it’s only Jim Brown of the big three left. But it’s far from competition any more – and rightfully, it never was. Rather, they all put Syracuse football on the map and each in their own ways.

Sadly, for Little, he can’t tell his story anymore. Now it’s up to us to continue that duty.

Of the late Ernie Davis, who passed at the young age of 23, also of cancer, Little once said, “He was my hero.” 

According to a Spectrum News feature in 2017, Little tried to emulate Davis. “Every time I played I knew who I was representing not only Syracuse University, but Ernie Davis and Jim Brown,” said Little.

Floyd Little is now gone, but the next generation of great running backs is awaiting.

And like how Davis did for Brown, Little did for Davis, and Boseman did for Little, the next chapter is coming. The number ’44’ is waiting.