SI Vault
William Peters
November 29, 1954
In his 25th year with the Lions, Lou has just ended one of his worst seasons. But he isn't worrying much?the admiring Columbia alumni probably will apologize to him
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November 29, 1954

Columbia Gets A Lot With A Little

In his 25th year with the Lions, Lou has just ended one of his worst seasons. But he isn't worrying much?the admiring Columbia alumni probably will apologize to him

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Lou Little was born in Boston and grew up in a strong Roman Catholic family in Leominster, Mass., where his father was a contractor. Lou was always interested in athletics and played football, basketball and baseball at Leominster High.

After graduation, he registered for a premedical course at the University of Vermont and stayed there two years before By Dickson, one of the coaches at the University of Pennsylvania, urged him to transfer to Penn.

With his switch in colleges, Lou changed his major, too, from medicine to dentistry, but that didn't work out well. Little, being left-handed, had all kinds of trouble coping with the right-handed dental school equipment. But he did play football. "Making a good team in big-time competition was a real thrill," he says. "The Cornell game was always our big one of the year and that year we beat them 23-3. The newspaper accounts of the game mentioned that I had played a good game, and that, for me, was it."

In the spring of 1917, Little went off to war and two years later, by then a captain, decided to remain in the Army as a career officer. But the call of athletics was too much for him. Bert Bell, a former teammate at Penn and today Commissioner of the National Football League, wrote Lou that all the boys were coming back for their senior year and they needed him. That was all it took. He resigned his commission and boarded a train east.

That year was one of the roughest in intercollegiate football history. Colleges all over America were filled with older, tougher men who had seen action in the war. Little won national recognition as a busy and aggressive tackle. He also gave up left-handed dentistry for a straight liberal arts course. When the season was over, he lost interest in school and dropped out before getting his degree.

After a brief try at selling bonds, Little went back to football, coaching and playing pro ball. In 1924 he became head football coach at Georgetown and soon he was also named Director of Athletics there. The football world first took notice of him as a coach in 1928 when his Georgetown eleven scored a stunning upset over heavily favored New York University in New York's Yankee Stadium, 7-2.

The game brought Little job offers from Penn and Columbia. Columbia won out, and in 1930 he started coaching the Lions at a reported salary of $17,500 a year, the highest of any college football coach in the country.

Through the years, Little's one real trademark?other than his highly imaginative offenses?has been his ability to score staggering upsets against highly favored foes. Stanford was the first great one. The most recent came in 1947, when another supposedly woefully inept Columbia team ended Army's string of 32 consecutive unbeaten games in a thriller, 21-20.


People who have watched a Columbia team practice are frequently surprised to see Lou Little step in to demonstrate a block with all of the aggressiveness and vigor of his playing days. In all his years of playing, his only injuries were a broken wristbone and the loss of three teeth. As a coach, though, he has suffered a broken transverse process on one of his vertebrae, a hip injury that required two operations and the loss of a vocal cord, removed because of a cyst. Before the operation, his voice had the strength of a foghorn. It now has the sound of one.

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