Former Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Larry Little was the team’s definition of hometown hero in the 1970s.
Little, who grew up in South Florida, spent his first two pro football seasons with Sid Gillman’s San Diego Chargers from 1967 to 1968.
After a serendipitous turn of events, Little returned to Miami and became one of the stalwarts of Don Shula’s 1970s Dolphins – one of the most dominant teams in NFL history.
Little’s exemplary pass-and-run-blocking abilities helped the Dolphins dominate the opposition back in the day.
The Dolphins were so good that they went undefeated in 1972 and won back-to-back Super Bowl titles in 1972 and 1973.
Little, a five-time Pro Bowl and five-time First-Team All-Pro selection from 1969 to 1975, was one of the biggest reasons behind that dominance.
Little eventually entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH in the summer of 1993.
This is Larry Little’s remarkable football journey.
Early Life and College Days with the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats
Larry Chatmon Little was born in Groveland, GA on November 2, 1945. He has a brother, David, and four sisters: Connie, Linda, Joy, and Betty.
The Little brothers both eventually entered the National Football League in later years. Larry played offensive guard for the Miami Dolphins while David played linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Little grew up following Johnny Unitas’s Baltimore Colts in the 1950s, per ProFootballHOF.com.
Larry’s first job during his formative years was at a corner store near his residence. He worked there for $8 three days a week.
Larry Little attended Booker T. Washington Senior High School in Miami, FL. He played football for the Booker T. Washington Tornadoes.
When Little entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 1993, he recalled trying out for football with the Tornadoes in the ninth grade in 1958. Little was only 13 years old at the time.
Little didn’t meet expectations at first. Since he played below expectations, his coaches didn’t hand him his football gear until the season opener.
Larry shook off the cobwebs, dusted himself off, and became one of the best two-way linemen in Tornadoes’ football history.
Despite Little’s best efforts, few college football recruiters had him on their radars.
According to the Los Angeles Times‘ Shav Glick, only the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, Florida A&M Rattlers, and Edward Waters Tigers – all historically black colleges – expressed interest in Larry’s services.
Little told Glick it was rare for an African-American who lived in the South to enroll at an integrated school in the 1960s.
On November 2, 1945, Larry Little, NFL Hall of Fame offensive guard (five-time Pro Bowler, 1969, 1971-1974; five-time First Team All-Pro, 1971–1975; NFL 1970's All-Decade Team; Super Bowl champion, 1972, 1973 – Miami Dolphins), is born in Groveland, Georgia. pic.twitter.com/qvKZP48xQD
— MMJYBBJWIdols (@MMJYBBJWIdols) November 3, 2020
He also thought the Tornadoes’ sub-par record (they only mustered twelve wins in four years) and his scrawny 190-pound frame – which was too small for a two-way lineman – worked against him.
Larry Little decided to attend Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black university based in Daytona Beach, FL, from 1964 to 1967. He majored in sociology.
Little played on both sides of the ball as an offensive lineman and defensive lineman for the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats.
Larry singled out Tank Johnson, his defensive line coach with the Wildcats, as his all-time favorite coach, per the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s official website.
Little and his Wildcats teammates did not have the luxury of training in a weight room on campus during their college days.
Consequently, Larry did not do strength training as a college student in the mid-1960s. Instead, he trained on his own back in the day, per MiamiDolphins.com.
Despite the lack of access to weight training equipment, Little’s physique somehow grew bigger during his college years.
Larry gained 25 pounds when he took the field as a true freshman in 1964. By the time he entered his senior season, he weighed 260 pounds, per the Los Angeles Times.
With Little wreaking havoc on offense and defense, the Wildcats never had a losing season with him on the roster.
Not only that, but Larry’s teammates also voted him team captain as a senior. He also earned MVP, All-Conference, and Ebony Press All-American honors in his final year with the Wildcats.
It was merely a prelude to Larry Little’s legendary pro football career. He would eventually help his hometown Miami Dolphins become one of the NFL’s most dominant teams in the 1970s.
Pro Football Career
Larry Little had high hopes of a team drafting him in the 1967 AFL/NFL Draft.
In fact, Larry confided to The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Ken Willis in the spring of 2018 that both the Houston Oilers and Los Angeles Rams promised him they would take him off the draft board.
Little was waiting for that much-anticipated phone call next to a phone booth in his dorm at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, FL.
Little guarded that phone with his life on draft day. If he had to use the bathroom, he asked one of his friends to take over and not to let anybody else use it.
To Larry’s disappointment, neither the Oilers nor the Rams called him.
Little slept it off that night. He was surprised when the NFL’s Baltimore Colts rang him up the following day, per Willis.
Larry asked the Colts about any signing bonus they could pay him. They told him they had none.
Fortunately for Little, one of his connections, area coach Bud Asher, knew somebody who worked for the San Diego Chargers’ front office. Before long, Little piqued Chargers head coach Sid Gillman’s interest.
Aside from the Chargers, the Miami Dolphins – the team where Larry emerged as a Hall of Fame offensive lineman – also dangled free-agent contracts to Little.
Little ultimately chose San Diego because the team offered him a signing bonus of $750 – the biggest among the three teams.
Larry did not hesitate at all. He did not hesitate despite California’s exorbitant state taxes.
Larry Little had just punched his ticket into the pro football ranks. He wasn’t particular about how much money he received. All he cared about was that he had finally made it.
“It is especially rewarding because I wasn’t drafted, receiving a $750 bonus,” Little said in his Pro Football enshrinement speech some twenty-six years later. “Just being in the league and getting the opportunity to play was quite an honor.”
Unfortunately for the Dolphins, they reached out to Larry one day after he agreed to his signing bonus with the Chargers.
When Miami general manager Joe Thomas spoke with Little, it was already too little, too late, per The Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Little did Thomas and the Dolphins know they would get another shot at Larry Little just over one year after they barely missed out on his services.
All it took was one fortuitous encounter at a car dealership in South Florida.
Another Larry – Miami Dolphins fullback Larry Csonka – played an instrumental role in Little’s serendipitous return to Miami.
According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s official website, the two men met at a Buick dealership sometime in 1968.
When Little walked into the dealership, Csonka, who didn’t know him from Adam, casually approached him. Because of their gargantuan physiques, they instinctively knew that they were both football players.
Csonka then asked Little what team he played for. The latter told him he played for the San Diego Chargers.
A perplexed Csonka asked him what Little was doing in South Florida. Little told him he’s a Miami, FL native.
With that, Csonka asked Little about the prospects of him playing for his hometown Miami Dolphins.
Csonka thought his new friend could block for him so that Csonka could burst through running holes and rack up more yardage on the gridiron.
Out of sheer coincidence, Little told Csonka that there were rumors swirling about a potential trade sending the former to the Dolphins.
As soon as Csonka left the Buick dealership, he drove to the Dolphins’ executive office and spoke with general manager Joe Thomas.
Thomas was wondering why Csonka would vouch for Little’s candidacy when, in fact, he had never watched him play football before.
“If nothing else, I can hide behind him,” Csonka told Thomas (via ProFootballHOF.com).
That apparently sealed the deal for Larry Little’s career as a member of the Miami Dolphins organization.
Thomas pulled the trigger and dealt defensive back Mack Lamb, Little’s high school teammate with the Booker T. Washington Tornadoes, to the Chargers for Little. The transaction fell through mere days after Csonka’s meeting with Thomas.
Little flourished in South Florida for the next twelve years of his legendary pro football career.
Not only that, but the two Larrys, Little and Csonka, played pivotal roles in the Dolphins’ undefeated 1972 season and eventually forged a lifelong friendship.
Larry had a mediocre two-year stint on the West Coast with the Chargers from 1967 to 1968. It turned out that a return to his old stomping grounds on the opposite side of the country did wonders for his pro football career.
Larry had no special reasons for wearing jersey No. 66 during his twelve-year tenure in Miami. He told ProFootballHOF.com some forty-one years later that it was just the number the team gave him.
Little joined the Dolphins in their fourth year of existence as the 1960s decade wound down.
Miami struggled in its early years under head coach George Wilson. The Dolphins averaged barely four wins per year and never made the postseason from 1966 to 1969.
The Dolphins’ fortunes changed drastically after they hired former Baltimore Colts head coach Don Shula prior to the 1970 NFL season – the year of the historic AFL-NFL merger.
This Friday, January 13 at 9:00 PM ET, NFL Network will profile the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins. The one-hour show features sit-down interviews with Pro Football Hall of Famers such as Bob Griese, Larry Csonka, Larry Little and Paul Warfield and Mercury Morris. #nfl #Dolphins pic.twitter.com/2PssY4mqNS
— Tom Koogler (@bulldogsrule80) January 12, 2023
Shula, a stickler for discipline, considered Little one of the most promising offensive linemen of his era when he first laid eyes on him.
“I saw that Little could be an outstanding pulling guard,” Shula said at the time (via ProFootballHOF.com).
However, Larry’s weight – he was on the cusp of weighing 300 pounds in 1970 – became a major concern for Shula. Little’s weight was the first thing Shula asked him about at the Dolphins’ head coach’s introductory press conference in 1970.
Shula thought Little would become a better offensive guard if he lost weight. He ordered Larry to lose 35 pounds by the time training camp kicked off that summer.
Otherwise, Shula would dock $10 from Little’s paycheck for every extra pound he carried daily.
Little complied and, thanks to a short work stoppage in the summer, lost the weight before training camp. Consequently, he reported for training camp in the best shape of his life.
“(Shula) was the man that probably made me to be the football player I was,” Little told Travis Wingfield of the Dolphins’ official website in May 2020. “When I lost that weight, it actually made me a better football player.”
When Little shed that excess weight, he felt like a new man. He thought a defensive back who dared to go up against his lighter self was basically committing suicide on the gridiron.
Little became firmly entrenched as Shula’s starting right guard in the 1970s. He was a stonewall who helped protect quarterback Bob Griese and open up running holes for fullback Larry Csonka.
Little’s incredible pass-blocking prowess also helped Griese connect with wide receiver Paul Warfield on countless occasions.
Little made a profound impact on the Dolphins right off the bat. He earned the first of his eventual five career Pro Bowl selections in the 1969 AFL campaign.
Larry Little was one of the stalwarts of the Miami Dolphins’ historic undefeated 1972 NFL season.
That Dolphins team set the bar high on both sides of the ball. Miami led the NFL in both total offense and defense that year.
Behind the combined efforts of Csonka, Mercury Morris, and Jim Kiick, the Dolphins rushed for a league-leading 2,960 yards in 1972.
Larry Little was one of the biggest reasons behind that gaudy statistic. With him at right guard, the Dolphins averaged a league-best 2,372 rushing yards per season in the 1970s.
The undefeated 1972 Dolphins team was so good that it boasted eight future Hall of Famers: Little, Csonka, Griese, Warfield, Shula, Nick Buoniconti, Jim Langer, and Bobby Beathard.
No NFL team has ever duplicated the Dolphins’ incredible feat to the present day. Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots came closest when they won all sixteen of their regular-season games in 2007.
To Belichick’s dismay and the Dolphins’ relief, David Tyree and the New York Giants thwarted New England’s shot at making history with an improbable 17-14 victory in Super Bowl XLII.
It’s an achievement that makes Larry Little proud, to say the least.
“After fifty years, we’re still the only undefeated team in the history of the NFL,” the 77-year-old Little told ProFootballHOF.com in 2022. “We all take great pride in our 50th anniversary this year.”
As Little’s pro football career progressed, he racked up more accolades. He earned five straight First-Team All-Pro honors from 1971 to 1975. He also earned two Second-Team All-Pro honors in 1977 and 1978.
Happy 76th birthday to HOF Guard Larry Little:
2X Super Bowl Champ
5X Pro Bowl
8th in MVP voting in 1972
Elected to HOF in 1993 pic.twitter.com/jfsC3vlBxE
— Jim Miloch (@podoffame) November 3, 2021
When Shula presented Little into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 1993, the former mentioned that Little was the first player in NFL history to earn AFC Offensive Lineman of the Year honors from the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) three consecutive times.
The Dolphins were one of the most successful NFL franchises in the 1970s. With Shula at the helm, Miami averaged ten wins per year from 1970 to 1980.
The Dolphins made seven postseason appearances (including four straight from 1970 to 1974), won five division titles, and won two Super Bowl titles during that unforgettable decade.
After losing to Roger Staubach’s Dallas Cowboys in embarrassing fashion 24-3 in Super Bowl VI, Little and Co. regrouped accordingly. They won consecutive Super Bowl titles in 1972 and 1973. Larry thus became a two-time Super Bowl champion in his iconic pro football career.
Legendary Washington Redskins defensive end Ron McDole lined up against Little in Super Bowl VII.
McDole, who was no slouch on the defensive line, sang Little’s praises after Miami’s 14-7 victory.
“Trying to get around Larry Little is like trying to throw a paper airplane through a mountain,” McDole said (via ProFootballHOF.com).
Little also made a huge impact in the Miami, FL community. Larry, a budding philanthropist, established the Gold Coast Summer Camp for disadvantaged children in 1970.
Larry considered his outstanding community work his greatest achievement off the gridiron, per ProFootballHOF.com.
Larry Little retired from pro football following the 1980 NFL season. Although Little battled knee, ankle, and leg injuries during his legendary 14-year pro football career, he was an ironman of his era who missed just four games with the Dolphins from 1969 to 1979.
During Larry’s playing days from 1967 to 1980, he did not have a pre-game ritual or superstition. However, he always sat on the end of the bench whenever he wasn’t playing.
Little told the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s official website in 2020 that his favorite NFL stadium other than the Dolphins’ Orange Bowl was the New York Jets’ Shea Stadium.
Larry loves doing crossword puzzles and reading sports publications such as Sporting News in his spare time. These activities help stimulate his mind.
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) November 2, 2022
Little is not much of a movie buff. However, he considers The Godfather his all-time favorite movie, per ProFootballHOF.com.
In terms of favorite food, Larry loves chicken. His Dolphins teammates dubbed him “Chicken” because of his fascination for poultry meat during his playing days.
Little’s favorite athletes include Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and former Miami Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade.
Larry Little, his wife Rosie, and their family currently reside in the Miami, FL area.
According to Bethune-Cookman University’s official athletics website, Little ventured into a sports administration and coaching career several years after he retired from the National Football League.
His first job after playing on the gridiron was serving as athletics director at Miami Edison High School.
Three years into Little’s career as a high school athletics director, Tank Johnson, his former line coach with the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, reached out to him.
Johnson, who was already Bethune-Cookman University’s athletics director in 1983, asked his former protege if he was interested in coaching the football team.
Although Little had no coaching experience, he thought he would enjoy calling the shots for the Wildcats.
Plus, Little could not pass up on the opportunity to give back to his college alma mater.
Larry accepted the offer and went 4-4-1 in his first year as Wildcats head football coach in 1983. He had an overall 45-48-1 record during his nine-year tenure from 1983 to 1991.
After a one-year hiatus from football, Little became the head football coach of the North Carolina Central Eagles in 1993. Little amassed a 33-32 win-loss record with the Eagles from 1993 to 1998.
Little also coached the World League of American Football’s (later renamed NFL Europe) Ohio Glory during his retirement years.
Larry Little became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 1993. Don Shula, his head coach with the Miami Dolphins from 1969 to 1980, was his presenter.
After Larry earned First-Team All-Pro honors five straight years and NFLPA AFC Offensive Lineman of the Year three consecutive years, he already knew he could enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday.
True enough, Little’s premonition came true some two decades later.
Larry found out about his enshrinement in a Las Vegas, NV hotel in early 1993 via a phone call from the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.
Little was on his way from Columbus, OH to Pasadena, CA to watch Super Bowl XXVII between the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys.
Larry and his group spent the night in Las Vegas prior to traveling to California. He found out he was a Hall of Famer during that memorable layover, per ProFootballHOF.com.
Little was just the third offensive guard and only former Bethune-Cookman Wildcats player to earn his gold jacket and bust in Canton, OH at the time of his induction.
When Shula presented Little into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he said he was a big man with a big heart – he did whatever it took for the Dolphins to win football games.
“It was an honor to coach a player with heart, intensity, and the will to win that Larry showed during his Dolphin career,” mused Shula, who entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame four years after Little’s induction.
Aside from Shula, Little also considered his Miami Dolphins teammate Mercury Morris and offensive line coach Monte Clark to be his presenter.
Part of Little’s enshrinement speech reads:
“What comes to mind today is how honored I am to be part of this elite and extraordinary group of athletes, coaches, and administrators…Football prepared me for so many things in life: how to deal with the peaks and valleys, the bitter and the sweet, self-motivation, and believing in myself, and working with others.”
Little is also a member of the Bethune-Cookman Athletics Hall of Fame, the Florida Sports Hall of Fame, the Black College Football Hall of Fame, the Miami Dolphins Honor Roll, and the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team.
Larry Little told The Daytona Beach News-Journal in 2018 that he shares his experience playing in the National Football League with Miami Dolphins rookies every year.
For instance, the Chargers drafted seventeen rookies in 1967 – fast forward five years later and only two of them remained on an NFL roster.
Little also talked to them about undrafted agents as diamonds in the rough. He reminds them every year that a player isn’t necessarily washed up or over the hill if he’s a free agent.
He tells them his story. He was an undrafted free agent who eventually entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame thirteen years after he retired from the NFL.
Little received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from his alma mater Bethune-Cookman University in the spring of 2014.
“I am deeply honored to be recgonized by my alma mater,” Little said (via ProFootballHOF.com). “I love Bethune-Cookman because I entered as a boy and departed a man.”
Larry Little continues making an impact on his local Miami, FL community. He currently serves as a community liaison specialist for the Miami-Dade County Public School district.
Little has also been hosting his annual Larry Little Legends Golf Classic since 2007. Proceeds of the tournament go to Virginia Key Beach Park Trust.
NFL legends who previously participated in the tourney include Don Shula, Paul Krause, Deacon Jones, Charley Taylor, Dwight Stephenson, Bobby Mitchell, Earl Morrall, Bobby Bell, Elvin Bethea, and Mercury Morris.