Sunday, September 23, 2012

Review: Promises to Keep (2012)

By Floyd Little with Tom Mackie

"Promises to Keep" is an odd autobiography. It was written probably because of a magazine article, and its best parts appear to have been published elsewhere.

First, the magazine story. Gary Smith wrote the story for Sports Illustrated a while back. It was about the unique relationship of star football player Floyd Little and freelance football writer Tom Mackie.

Little was one of the nation's top college running backs at Syracuse, and a workhorse for the Denver Broncos. Little didn't have a great deal of help on his Broncos teams of the Sixties and Seventies, and his teams had poor records, but Little still was obviously one of the league's best runners.

Guys like that usually have trouble making the Hall of Fame, and Little certainly did. But Mackie's childhood hero was Little, and Mackie was determined to get Little to Canton ... particularly after the two men actually met. So Mackie kept working at that goal, year after year, and Little finally made it. The story, as Little puts it here, was practically a screenplay - a memorable, wonderful story that put Little back in the public eye.

It was a natural, then, for Little to try a full-fledged autobiography. Most Hall of Famers should give such books a try anyway. And this is it. He covers his early years well enough, coming out of poverty in Connecticut. Little got some guidance along the way that directed his energies into proper directions, and after two years of prep school he landed a scholarship at Syracuse. There he was one of the great series of running backs to wear #44 (Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, etc.).

Little was a first-round draft choice of the Broncos, and became their one star. Denver spent most of his career losing, but that doesn't mean he didn't encounter plenty of interesting personalities along the way. Little tells a variety of anecdotes about a variety of them.

This part is good reading, but it comes with a catch. Little mentions that he wrote a book in 2006, "Floyd Little's Tales from the Broncos' Sideline." He says that since the publisher went bankrupt recently and that books are difficult to find, he simply retells some stories here. In looking at the review, there's no doubt that the best tales do get rehashed here.

Once Little gets done with his pro career, he spends just a little time on his life after football and soon jumps into the story about making the Hall with both feet. The chapter runs more than 40 pages, which is saying something in a book that has 243 pages of text. It's easy to see how much the trip to Canton meant to him, but he still has a little bitterness about the wait. Considering that Little is by all accounts a good person, here's hoping he moves beyond that and soon.

The book ends with a wide variety of comments, going from inspirational advice to thoughts on Tim Tebow and Jim Brown to tributes to family members. It's a slightly disorganized finish to the story, although it sounds like his work at Syracuse now in the athletic department is an excellent spot for him.

Oh - one other small complaint -- couldn't someone have found a better, in-focus picture for the front cover?

"Promises to Keep," then, comes with an asterisk. Those who read Little's first book probably need not go here. As for the rest of us, the new effort is a pleasant enough look at one of football's most underrated players.

Three stars

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