Interview: Larry LittleNo professional football team has ever enjoyed
such a mercurial rise from the misery of expansion to Super Bowl glory as the Miami Dolphins in their formative years. In 1967, the Dolphins suffered through a 4-10 season and the typical growing pains of a franchise starting from scratch. Just five seasons later, Miami sipped from the NFL's Holy Grail when it finished a perfect season with a Super Bowl victory.
A few losing seasons gave the Dolphins the time and draft picks to add talent to their young squad. The metamorphosis from doormat to dominance began with
the addition of three key players: quarterback Bob Griese in 1967, running back Larry Csonka in 1968 and guard Larry Little in 1969. The final piece to the puzzle was the addition of Don Shula, who coached the Dolphins to a 10-4 record and an AFC Wild-Card berth in 1970. Miami went on to win three straight AFC titles in 1971, 1972 and 1973, with victories in Super Bowls VII and VIII.
Football games, it has often been said, are won and lost at the line of scrimmage. That was true in the early seventies and it remains true today. Little helped to open the holes for Csonka and also made sure Griese stayed upright long enough to deliver the ball. The Hall of Fame guard took a few moments to speak with The Sports
Network about the game he loves in an exclusive interview.
TSN: Larry, you've been to five Pro Bowls and three Super Bowls. You've also been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Thinking back on all these accomplishments, of which one are you most proud?
LITTLE: As a team I'm most proud of the undefeated season while, as an individual, it would be going into the Hall of Fame.
TSN: I guess, for a player, going to Canton is as good as it gets.
LITTLE: Individually, that was the apex of my career.
TSN: Do you think there will ever be another undefeated team?
LITTLE: I don't see it [happening]. If a team is going to do it, it would be very, very difficult. I don't think I'll see it in my lifetime. One thing you don't have now is continuity. Even then, we lost Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield to the World Football League and I think that hurt our dynasty.
TSN: What do you think of this year's Dolphins?
LITTLE: I think they're a very solid football team in all three areas of the game: offense, defense and special teams.
TSN: Do you consider Jay Fiedler a good quarterback?
LITTLE: I think he's a good quarterback. He's better than a lot of other quarterbacks in the league. In today's NFL, you really don't have a bunch of
TSN: Thanks for the segue. I was just about to ask how come there are so few good quarterbacks in the league today?
LITTLE: That's a very good question because today you see a lot of college programs throwing the football more often.
TSN: You don't see a lot of schools running that classic wishbone offence.
LITTLE: That's exactly right. There used to be a lot of option teams, but there are not so many any more. Yet, there are still very few good quarterbacks coming into the league. It's kind of ironic.
TSN: In your opinion, who is the best quarterback to ever play the game?
LITTLE: In my opinion, the best passer that ever played was Dan Marino.
TSN: A little bit of home cooking there?
LITTLE: By virtue of accomplishments and lifting a team and winning Super Bowls, then I'd have to say Joe Montana.
TSN: The salary cap has made trades virtually non-existent, it's impossible to maintain a core of players under the current system, so I have to ask you whether there will there ever be another great dynasty?
LITTLE: I don't think so. I think there's too much parity in the league for you to see another dynasty. I don't know if you'll see a team win back-to-back Super Bowls again. The Rams came close last year but they failed.
TSN: One man's parity is another man's competitive balance. Which side of the fence are you on?
LITTLE: Let's say I'm on the side of parity because I fail to see competitive balance. How can you use the words "competitive balance" when there are teams
like the Bengals? What have they won, eight games in the last five years?
TSN: It seems that way, but that could just be a function of a poorly run organization.
LITTLE: It always starts at the top.
TSN: The competition to make an NFL team - much less start for one - is immense. Players seem to get bigger every single year. Baseball's steroid issue came front and center with the Ken Caminiti article in Sports Illustrated. Now we know the NFL tests for steroids and punishes those found using, but with players seemingly getting bigger each and every year, do you think these guys are masking?
LITTLE: I don't know, it's hard to say. They are tested. I don't know how they can mask it because I'm not a doctor and I'm not a pharmacist. The other thing is a lot of these guys are big -- but they're big and fat.
TSN: Safe to say Gilbert Brown is not on steroids.
LITTLE: There's a rumour that John McEnroe was on steroids as skinny as he is. It could be out there, but it's really hard for me to say.
TSN: Also, we know that Fernando Vargas tested positive after his loss to Oscar De La Hoya.
LITTLE: Did he? I was unaware of that.
TSN: Kind of tough to take steroids and still lose the fight.
LITTLE: Especially after all that talking he [Vargas] did.
TSN: Las Vegas seems to have a crystal ball. While there are a few real surprises week after week, the lines seem to be on the money for the most part. What do you think that can be attributed to and do you think that creates some skepticism among the viewing public?
LITTLE: I don't think so. Vegas might like it, but football is the most popular sport out there on its own merits. Sports betting is such big business now that it's hard to tell -- especially in football. But one thing I'm quite sure of is that betting has nothing to do with the outcome of football games. I'll just put it that way.
TSN: So you feel there's no funny business going on in relation to betting lines?
LITTLE: Absolutely not.
TSN: There's no question that the NFL has replaced Major League Baseball as this country's national pastime. Many would say that's because of the gambling aspect --- do you think that's true and do you think such statements are fair?
LITTLE: I think that's an unfair statement. You can say there are gamblers that bet on the sport, but there are a lot of lower income viewers watching that have no money on the line. The excitement of the game is what has generated all the interest. It goes back to the days of the Romans with the gladiators.
TSN: So you're saying we could sell out 75,000-seat venues with men fighting lions?
LITTLE: Basically, that's it. All football players are nothing more than modern day gladiators.
TSN: Since it was your job to get your hat on a linebacker, who do you feel is the greatest linebacker ever to play the game?
LITTLE: Well you're talking about some great football players. I mean, Dick Butkus comes to mind certainly. Willie Lanier, Ray Nitschske. But if you watch Ray Lewis right now, he may go down as the best ever to play the game. He's a cut above, quite possibly, any linebacker I've ever seen. He just does amazing things. He runs down the wide receiver on one play and forces a fumble on the
next play. He can make plays at the line of scrimmage and also dominates in pass coverage. The guy is just absolutely amazing.
TSN: With all the great linebackers you mentioned, I'm curious as to why you left out Lawrence Taylor?
LITTLE: Because Taylor was an outside linebacker, and inside linebacker and outside linebacker are two completely different positions. There's no question
that Taylor is one of the best because of the way he rushed the passer and what he added to the position. If you're an OLB, you rush the passer or play
over the tight end and that's pretty much it. An ILB has people coming at him from all angles and has to make decisions more on the fly. You really can't compare one to the other. It's apples and oranges.