Gold Jacket Spotlight: Larry Little, Miami's Mountain Man

Gold Jacket Spotlight Published on : 2/6/2022
In interview after interview, former Dolphins teammates refer to dominant right guard Larry Little not by his given name but by the nickname he picked up early in his professional career.

Asked to comment specifically about Larry, who this week steps into the Gold Jacket Spotlight, Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese turned to the questioner and replied, “You mean ‘Chicken’?”

“He was no chicken when he got up to the line of scrimmage,” Griese quickly added.

Larry Csonka, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in three of the first six seasons of his Hall of Fame career, accumulated many of the toughest yards plowing through a hole Larry created. Others came by following Larry around the end on the devastating Dolphins sweep, leading “Csonk” to marvel at his big teammate’s footspeed.

“I’ll be running behind ‘Chicken,’ who is blocking for me, and suddenly I realize he is pulling away from me,” Csonka once said. “Sometimes I grab hold of his pants to keep up.”

Larry was so quick for his size that Hall of Fame coach Sid Gillman – considered one of the game’s great offensive masterminds – tried him at fullback.

But Gillman and the Chargers, who had invested the meager sum of $750 signing the undrafted Little to a free agent contract in 1967, ditched the idea after a couple of practices.

At the time the Chargers were trying to decide where and how best to use Larry, he nearly was eating his way out of pro football. The “Chicken” nickname stemmed from his love of poultry meals and his weight rose sharply.

By 1969, the Chargers decided to trade Larry to the Dolphins. He became a starter in Miami, but when the Dolphins managed only a 3-10-1 record, more changes loomed.

Enter coach Don Shula – and his demanding ways.

“I see the promise of what could be the finest offensive lineman in the game,” Shula told another coach, but he also saw a player approaching 300 pounds.

He issued an ultimatum: Larry would trim down to 265 pounds by the opening of the 1970 training camp, or he would pay a $10 fine for every extra pound – per day.

Thanks, in part, to a brief labor stoppage in July, Larry made weight when camp opened.

Future opponents soon experienced the talent Shula envisioned from the beginning.

“I saw that Little could be an outstanding pulling guard,” Shula said. “I got the idea it would be best to go with the run and use the pass as a mixer.”

Larry started all 14 games that season as the Dolphins went 10-4 and reached the playoffs behind the league’s third-ranked rushing offense. The NFLPA named Larry its Offensive Lineman of the Year. 

He won that award again the following season (and once more in 1972) as Miami reached the Super Bowl with the NFL’s top rushing attack. Larry also earned the first of what would become six consecutive All-Pro designations that year.

Everything then fell into place for “Chicken” and the Dolphins in 1972.

Miami set an NFL record with 2,960 team rushing yards, led the league in total offense and recorded the NFL’s only perfect record, culminating their 17-0 season with a 14-7 victory over Washington.

Playing across from Larry in that Super Bowl was Ron McDole, a two-time AFL champion with the Bills whom many offensive linemen praised over his 18-year career for his toughness.

McDole said of Larry: “Trying to get around Larry Little is like trying to throw a paper airplane through a mountain.”

Miami’s mountain man was enshrined in Canton in 1993, and in his speech praised his coach.

“Special thanks to you, Coach Shula, for having the foresight to see me at the weight I was, to help me move this weight to be the kind of person I am today and the great football player I was when I retired.”