(CNN) — Former Denver Broncos running back Floyd Little died Friday at the age of 78, according to his family.
“After nearly a year of confronting, even battling cancer, the beloved hero, brother, uncle, grandfather, father and husband, Pro Football Hall of Famer, Denver Bronco, and Syracuse #44 Legend, Floyd D. Little ran his last mile, gracefully bowed his head, and met his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” according to a family statement released Saturday.
Little played his entire nine-year NFL career with the Broncos, having been selected sixth in the 1967 AFL-NFL draft. In Denver, he was given the nickname, “The Franchise” and was elected team captain as a rookie.
“Floyd Little put #BroncosCountry on the map,” the team posted on Twitter.
Little rushed for more than 6,000 yards and scored 43 touchdowns for the Broncos.
His best season was 1971 when he won the NFL rushing title with 1,133 yards while playing on a team that finished last in its division with a record of 4-9-1.
Little made the Pro Bowl five times and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
In his Hall of Fame induction speech, he urged listeners to never give up on their dreams.
“Because of those that encouraged me in those early years, I am here today. So, I want to encourage you, every student, every athlete, every person who will hear my voice, don’t listen to the naysayer. I had plenty of those,” Little said. “Don’t listen to those that will judge you for your rough edges. Don’t focus on your weakness so you won’t become a victim … Because the good in you is better than the worst in most. The choice is yours. Be the best that you can be.”
In May, it was revealed that Little had been fighting neuroendocrine tumors, a rare cell cancer, and it had metastasized, according to CNN affiliate KMGH.
In November, Little entered hospice care, according to a former Syracuse teammate Patrick Killorin, who posted on Facebook, according to CNN affiliate KCNC.
He died at his home in Henderson, Nevada.
‘The man behind the number’
Hailing from New Haven, Connecticut, Little was a three-time All-American at Syracuse, an honor which led him to being enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983.
Both Syracuse University and the Denver Broncos have retired No. 44, Little’s playing number.
President-elect Joe Biden, who attended Syracuse with Little, said in a statement that he will “miss my friend.”
“I got to know Floyd as the man behind the number. He was full of character, decency, and integrity. He was always gracious with his time with fans — parents and grandparents who wanted to introduce their children and grandchildren to a genuine role model,” Biden recalled.
“We’d call each other after Syracuse games and to check in on one another. I remember our call when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the joy in his voice. And I remember the more recent call when he shared his cancer diagnosis, and how fearless he was in his conviction to fight it. As with everything else he did in life, Floyd lived to the very end with grit and heart, and love for his family and faith in God.”
“Floyd Little was not only a Hall of Fame running back, he was a Hall of Fame person,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.
“Faith, family and football were the pillars of his life. I was so fortunate to know Floyd and witnessed first-hand the impact he had on others. Whenever he represented the Broncos at the annual NFL Draft, others immediately sought to greet him and his genuine excitement of being with his fellow Legends and his pride and passion for the Broncos was unmistakable,” Goodell said.
Little is survived by his wife, two daughters, a son and several grandchildren, KMGH reported.
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