Of all the attention he received on his day of days, from the applause of thousands to the heartfelt shoulder-tap of his former coach, the one thing Larry Little deserved most was longest in coming:
His moment alone.
No linemen flanking him. No teammates overshadowing him. No one forgetting him.Saturday morning, on the steps of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Little looked out to his family in the crowd and took a deep breath, standing alone.
``I`ll always cherish this,`` he said.
Always the lead blocker, he was never the lead story, a reflection of his position and personality.
Just last season, during an Undefeated Season reunion, the former captains were introduced at Joe Robbie Stadium and said some words to the crowd. All except Little. He was overlooked. He then had to be coaxed into talking by former teammates, who literally pushed him to the microphone.
And on the JRS Ring of Honor, many Dolphins have been immortalized, deserving names all. Little waits. He will get his, to be sure, but only in the due time.
THE TOUCH OF HUMILITY
Perhaps through his blue-collar position he developed a blue-collar ego, the touch of humility in his Dolphin class.
This came across again Saturday.
Twice, Shula has hired offensive line coaches this offseason. Twice he has bypassed Little, who openly wanted the job. But it`s Shula`s team, and Shula`s call, and no one begrudges the assistants he has hired, least of all Little.
Instead of turning their relationship publicly awkward, Little turned the page. When it came time to find someone to present him at the induction, he didn`t need a search committee.
``He motivated me to be all I could be as a player,`` Little said in his induction speech. ``Without him, I wouldn`t be here today.``
This might not seem much. But all you had to do was look around to see the names in this Hall of Fame class to see that it was. Big egos get rubbed the wrong way in big ways.
Chuck Noll, former Steelers coach, never mentioned Saturday the quarterback who helped win him four Super Bowls. Likewise, at his 1988 induction, Terry Bradshaw never gave notice to his coach for all those years.
Walter Payton? The standard of sweetness never once mentioned Mike Ditka. It`s hard to blame him. Ditka is Ditka. He turned around the Bears and helped Payton reach a Super Bowl -- but never showed a touch beyond the Neanderthal, even refusing to call Payton`s number to let him score a touchdown in that 46-10 blowout against New England.
SUCCESS WITHOUT THE EGO
That Little and Shula didn`t part ways when they parted company is due more to the player than the coach. It has to be that way.
But Little always had the success without its trappings and, evidently, that came as naturally as his oversized physique. He never lost the ability to laugh at himself.
``In the ninth grade, at age 13, I would`ve been voted the most unlikely to succeed,`` he said. ``I was so bad I didn`t get equipment until the day before the season.``
He then ran down more thank-yous than Hallmark, from high school coaches to the 100-odd friends and family who wore orange T-shirts. He thanked his line coach, Monte Clark. He thanked his teammates. He thanked his mom, his wife, his children and his sisters by name.
Perhaps it was to be expected. Finally alone in the spotlight he deserved, Little wanted to do what he has always done best. He wanted to share the hole for everyone to run through.