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THE UNEXPECTED HERO
GARY SMITH
July 26, 2010
FORMER BRONCOS BACK FLOYD LITTLE AND ARDENT FAN TOM MACKIE EACH HELPED THE OTHER FULFILL HIS LIFELONG DREAM
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July 26, 2010

The Unexpected Hero

FORMER BRONCOS BACK FLOYD LITTLE AND ARDENT FAN TOM MACKIE EACH HELPED THE OTHER FULFILL HIS LIFELONG DREAM

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Of course Tom's blinded by loyalty. Most of the voters are dedicated journalists devoting vast amounts of unpaid time to the task and getting deluged with petitions from entire fan bases, web communities and individuals. It's a mind-twisting endeavor, stacking a Pro Bowl running back from the '70s against, say, an all-star defensive end from the '40s, and there's a whole warehouse of magnificent players, dead and alive, who arguably belong in the Hall.

This time it's Floyd talking Tom down off the ledge. It's O.K., buddy, 2008's our year—Floyd's got an inside tip from a Hall of Famer who'll be acting as a consultant to the Senior Committee and going to bat for him. Geez, says Tom. Great. He keeps up the artillery fire, just in case, and they can't wait for the August announcement.

Bob Hayes ... again? Hayes, a convicted drug dealer, the Cowboys receiver who'd been bounced by the full membership's vote four years earlier. Floyd, now 66, turns to his wife, DeBorah. "If I'm dead and they elect me, tell 'em, 'F--- you,' " he instructs her. "Tell 'em to kiss my ass. The idea's to celebrate and dance with your family and friends when you get this. And tell my son to tell them that too."

He calls Tom. Close friends they'll always be ... but the team's finished. "It's over," Floyd says. "I'm done."

Exit a dream. There goes Floyd's immortality project, and there goes his second career, the dealership. He has slashed it from 60 employees to 28, and it's still losing a hundred grand a month and bleeding his retirement. In June 2009 he wipes his eyes and tells the last 28—people whose birthday parties and weddings he attended, whose children's children he knows by name—what he told Tom: It's over, he's done.

On the other side of the country Tom stares into a mirror. He knows it's time for him to move on too. He's got a little boy lying in a crib beneath a Broncos mobile, wearing the Broncos jumpsuit sent by Uncle Floyd. There's no time, with a child and a full-time job, for the crusade anymore, and no one to share it with, anyway. Floyd refuses to discuss it. Emily won't either. She loves Floyd, but she's had it. And Tom's just like most guys, helpless to explain to a woman why he has to keep scratching some old itch, keep returning to something simpler and cleaner that sports gave him once upon a time. A windstorm crashes a massive poplar through the roof of the room above the garage where Tom keeps all the Floyd mementos and scrapbooks and NFL trinkets he had collected since childhood, the room he calls Mantown, and now he wonders if even God's telling him to evolve.

But he can't. He needs every ounce of it now, the doggedness of the boy who once numbed his throbbing right foot with ice and ran his best two-mile time, then found out the foot was fractured. He tracks down the last 18 Hall of Famers he needs and mails off 44 Hall of Famers on 44 Floyd Little: a booklet in which 44 legends insist that Floyd should be admitted to their tribe. Floyd blinks back tears as he reads Elway calling him "the greatest Bronco of us all," Steeler Jack Ham calling him "the most complete back I ever played against" and Colt John Mackey, in a letter written before dementia stole his mind, saying, "If you can't find space for Floyd Little, please take me out of the Hall of Fame and put him in."

Aug. 25, 2009, dawns. Floyd's in bed at 9 a.m.; he's an unemployed man. Tom, too sick at heart to enslave himself to the Hall of Fame website, leaves his computer to buy another $3.99 hoagie and despair alone in a park.

Floyd's phone rings. His wife answers. "This is Joe Horrigan from the Pro Football Hall of Fame," says the voice, and DeBorah, wide-eyed, hands the phone to Floyd. His eyes begin to shine. He jabs the speaker button and croaks, "I want you to say that again for my wife!"

"Floyd, it is my pleasure and honor to tell you that you've been nominated to the Pro Football Hall of Fame!"

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