AFC West: Dick LeBeau
He never quit.
“I gave up, I really did,” Little said.
The only way Little, who starred for Denver from 1967 to 75, could get in was as a senior committee nominee. In 2008, the senior committee selected Bob Hayes as a nominee. It was his second go-around in the senior committee. Hayes was finally elected to the Hall of Fame in 2009.
“I thought once they were giving guys a second chance before I got a first chance that it would never happen,” Little said.”I thought I was so far in the hole they wouldn’t find me.”
However, in 2009, Little was nominated by the senior committee. As soon as he was nominated, he started to become hopeful. He kept focusing on the No. 44.
It was the number he wore in Denver. It was the number fellow candidate Dick LeBeau wore. The election was taking place the day before the 44th Super Bowl. Little’s son, Marc, was turning 44 this year. The United States is on its 44th president, Barack Obama.
“It was all falling into place,” Little said. “It was time for 44 to pay off.”
It did. Little and his friend LeBeau were elected to the Hall of Fame in February. Marc Little will present his father at the Canton, Ohio, museum on Saturday.
“It’s been surreal since I was elected,” Littlie said. “I’ve waited 35 years and now that it is here, I have so much to do it is really overwhelming.”
Little has been concentrating on his speech for several months. He has been spending the past month editing it. Candidates have just six to eight minutes for their speech. Little, 68, said he has a lifetime of people to thank for his journey to Canton.
“I need a minute for every year I’ve waited. I need 35 minutes,” Little joked. Little admitted that there are “four or five areas” of his speech during which he is worried he will get emotional. He has been trying to work on it. Still, after his long wait, he knows it might be impossible not to break down.
Little is also hoping to have some special help on the stage. He is friends with Vice President Joe Biden. The two went to Syracuse together. Biden is trying to find the time to get to the ceremony. If so, Biden will help Marc Little unveil his father’s bust.
“The only time Joe visited the Hall of Fame, he asked workers where my bust was,” Little said. “They told him it wasn’t there. He said he wouldn’t be back until it was … It’s been a long wait, but it’s almost here. I’m walking on cloud nine.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson and John Clayton
This is a debate on Sunday's AFC divisional playoff game between San Diego and Pittsburgh. We will tackle topics on the game. AFC West blogger Bill Williamson will debate the side of the Chargers and senior writer John Clayton will debate the side of the Steelers.
Here we go:
Which quarterback will have a bigger impact?
|Harry How/Getty Images|
|Philip Rivers and the Chargers ride a five-game winning streak into Pittsburgh Sunday.|
Bill Williamson: John, it's going to be San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers. The Chargers are the hottest team in the NFL and Rivers is one of the hottest players in the league. He's playing out of his mind. Why shouldn't he? It's the playoffs and Rivers is a late-season player.
Rivers, taken seven picks higher than Roethlisberger, has developed into one of the great late-season players. He is 14-0 in December games and he is 3-2 in the postseason. While Indianapolis' Peyton Manning got his numbers Saturday night, it was Rivers who led the Chargers to 10 points in the final minute of regulation and in overtime.
Rivers is a big-game player. Yes, Big Ben has his Super Bowl ring and he knows how to get it done in the clutch as well. But Rivers is red hot. His statistics far surpass Roethlisberger's numbers in 2008. Rivers is playing with a purpose. He is a fantastic leader. He will not be intimidated by the vaunted Pittsburgh defense or the miserable weather. Rivers has willed the Chargers to victory during this five-game win streak, and there's no reason not to think Rivers won't do it again, Mr. Clayton.
John Clayton: Billy, you can throw me all the stats you want, but Ben Roethlisberger was the first of the top three quarterbacks taken in the 2004 draft to go to the Super Bowl and win, beating Eli Manning and Philip Rivers to the punch. The 14-0 December stat is nice, but Roethlisberger did get the field goal drive to beat Rivers in Pittsburgh this year. He's a big-time player in big-time games. Rivers is a quarterback who is learning the playoffs. Last year, he learned how to win a playoff game, beating the Titans. Roethlisberger is one of the best in football in the final two possessions of the fourth quarter. He has a presence in those situations that is one of the best in football. He has a strong arm that doesn't have problems in windy conditions. I'm not going to make a pick in this game, but Roethlisberger has the edge during his career in one key stat -- wins. He's 51-20 during the regular season and he's done it against tough schedules. Drew Brees has better stats than both those guys, but don't bet against Roethlisberger in the final four minutes of any game.