FAYETTEVILLE -- Steve Little kicked so great that he kicked one of Arkansas' greatest kickers out of Arkansas.
Charleston's Steve Cox detoured to Tulsa (delaying by two years his lifelong dream of becoming a Razorback) because Little was kicking at the UA.
Little died in his sleep in Little Rock on Monday at 43. The former Razorback All-American placekicker-punter and NFL first-round draft choice had been exceeding a shortened life expectancy, Arkansas Athletic Director Frank Broyles said.
Little had been a quadriplegic from injuries suffered in a 1980 automobile accident.
Little had completed his 1974-77 Razorback run when Cox transferred from the University of Tulsa as a junior to the UA in 1978.
Cox cites Little for furthering the kicking game tradition that made Cox want to come to Arkansas. Yet Steve Little was THE reason why Steve Cox couldn't come.
"My sister was a majorette here," he said. "And we came to every Razorback game in Little Rock and Fayetteville, sat in the end zone every week ... In my 10th-grade year they signed Steve Little. And I knew then, I probably needed to start looking for another place to go. He was such a great kicker. They were high on him and deservedly so.''
Cox, now a banker in Jonesboro, was a UA All-American punter in 1979 and '80. Cox also launched mammoth kickoffs and long field goals.
Cox was at his most accurate the day he was three-for-three to propel Tulsa to a 9-3 victory over Little and the Hogs in 1976 at Razorback Stadium.
Little missed a couple of field goals in that 1976 game. But Little won Cox's awe.
"That day in Fayetteville, I watched that guy (Little) kick a 61-yard field goal. He trotted off the field and I said, 'He really is as great as they say,'" Cox said.
Steve Cox led a considerably more disciplined lifestyle than did Steve Little. That likely contributed to Cox's long NFL career with the Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins while Little's NFL stay ended tragically. The accident occurred on that embittered night after he had been cut by the then St. Louis Cardinals after two seasons.
Little had his demons of partying too hard and getting angry too fast. He also had a charm and courage that carried him through 19 years after an accident that would have done in lesser men.
Little was also a team leader. He wasn't the "do as I do'' kind of leader tabbed as a traditional role model. Nonetheless, he led.
The night before Arkansas beat Kentucky last season in Little Rock, the 1977 Razorback team that Lou Holtz coached to 11-1 and the huge Orange Bowl upset over Oklahoma, reconvened in the Lettermen's Club at War Memorial Stadium.
This writer went to the reunion, initially to gather feature interview material.
Soon of course it was put away the tape recorder to trade off-the-record memories with athletes whose comparative ages had made them about as much peer group as subjects to a young writer in the 1970s.
Steve Little was there. And as he talked and laughed, with old teammates gravitating to him like moths to the flame, you forgot he was in a wheelchair drinking beer through a straw.
As that Letterman's Club late-night broke up, Little was moving the party to the house where he and his brother, Gene, lived.
Even in a wheelchair, he was still having fun and leading.