It felt, Floyd would say years later, as if someone had jammed a hand down his throat and ripped out his heart. Now he's pouring all that out to this stranger, and the stranger's vowing to help get that heart back.
Floyd pauses, finally, and looks right at Tom. "Why are you doing this?" he asks.
"Because you were my hero," Tom says, "and you did things the right way on and off the field, and this is wrong." Something catches Tom by surprise. He just heard his voice crack.
Enter a team. Two men who need each other to fulfill their dreams. Two men standing side by side, each turning to grasp at something that keeps emerging, moment by moment, and vanishing again: his life. The black man trying to secure his grip on it by reaching forward, for immortality. A bronze bust in Canton that guarantees he'll live forever. The white man turning the other way—the way most of us, more ordinary, do—and reaching into his past, for the life that disappeared behind him.
Tom goes home on fire. He's going to bake up a batch of the best, most thorough stories he has ever written, convince important newspapers to publish them and make millions of people aware of Floyd Little's plight. He's going to frame Floyd's career for the under-40s who never saw him rip open a crowded football field with one zigzag slice and reframe it for the over-40s who forgot him because they never saw him on a playoff stage. Tom's going to lay siege to the 39 sentries at the holy gates.
Nine of them are all he must target in Phase One, he learns, the nine Senior Selection Committee members who meet in a rotating group of five each August to decide which two old-timers to place before the full membership for a vote at the Super Bowl. He begins combing the Internet to learn all he can about those nine journalists, their past exposure to Floyd, their preferences and aversions in candidates. He begins combing NFL records and his own encyclopedic memory of the sport to find comparisons no one ever thought to make. Hey, look: Over Floyd's career, '68 to '75, only one man gained more yards rushing or more yards from scrimmage—O.J. Simpson. And look: Floyd retired as one of only seven NFL players to average more than 100 all-purpose yards per game, 104, more than the averages of Emmitt Smith, Marcus Allen, Leroy Kelly and Lenny Moore, Hall of Famers all. And look: The players who ranked seventh in alltime NFL rushing in 1980, '85, '90, '95 and 2000 are all in the Hall of Fame. Why not the guy who ranked seventh in '75, especially since all six of the men in front of him are already enshrined?
Numbers begin filling the margins of Tom's day planner at work. Numbers begin filling notebooks. Numbers scribbled after his wife goes to sleep at midnight, numbers scribbled when he awakens at 5 a.m. Holy crap, look at this: Of the six running backs in history with more rushing yards than Floyd had when he retired, five of them had two or three Hall of Fame offensive linemen blowing open holes for them, and the sixth had one. Floyd? Zero. Among those six, Jim Brown ran behind offensive linemen named to 17 Pro Bowls, Leroy Kelly behind linemen named to 13 Pro Bowls, Simpson behind linemen named to six. Floyd's blockers? Three Pro Bowls. One day, Emily stumbles upon page after page of those numbers and thinks, Oh, God, this is just like that scene in A Beautiful Mind in which the wife finds calculations and words all over the walls and realizes that her schizophrenic husband has galloped right over the edge.
The Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News both reject Tom's freelance story—the two newspapers in the town where Floyd starred, for crying out loud! He can't tell Floyd. He tinkers with the story, finds new numbers, better arguments, submits variations of it to the Syracuse Post-Standard, the New Haven Register and the Denver magazine Mile High Sports. Yes! They all run it. For a grand sum of 500 bucks. He goes back to his numbers, so fraught with humdingers that he decides to play with Floyd's jersey number and create a booklet, 44 Reasons to Elect Floyd Little to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He spends weeks digging up the addresses of all 39 Hall of Fame voters and writing them personal cover letters, then shells out a couple hundred dollars to print up and mail off the booklets. He and Floyd are both crushed in August 2003 when the senior committee does the same thing it always does: forgets Floyd Little.
Tom reloads. Tom produces a new and improved 44 Reasons for 2004. Tom creates a DVD of Floyd's most jaw-dropping runs. He lobs all that into the inner sanctum. He couldn't do this if he'd become a sportswriter. He'd be too neutral, too jaded, too weary. He's making progress. His stats and reasons are popping up in newspapers and on websites. August arrives. Floyd can barely sleep. Tom can barely work. His fingers can't stop clicking on the Hall of Fame website for the announcement. What? Benny Friedman and Fritz Pollard are the senior nominees for 2005? Tom's got to apologize to Floyd again and tell him that?
Floyd's voice goes dead on the phone. It must be personal, he fumes. Someone must have a grudge. Unless he's inducted, he vows, he'll never set foot in the Hall. But there he goes again, a few months later, helping Tom produce more ammo. He calls Tom one day in 2005: Would he like to write Floyd's biography? Tom can't form words. All his life he's dreamed of writing a book. And so every Tuesday and Thursday for months, at 9 a.m. PST, Floyd's eyes go to the office phone in his dealership just outside of Seattle, awaiting Tom's call. It's the highlight of Floyd's week, now that car sales have tanked and his dealership's a mausoleum. For that hour or two, Floyd sparkles, booms, whispers, giggles, mimicking coaches and teammates and buddies and siblings as he relives his life for Tom.