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.
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.
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