When Otis Armstrong was about 5 years old, he and a buddy, Darryl, used to race on the streets of Chicago’s Lawndale neighborhood. Little Darryl always won, at least until one day, after Otis talked his mother into buying him a new pair of shoes: Chuck Taylor All-Stars.
When Otis finally won, Darryl was flabbergasted. “How’d you do that?” he asked. Otis smiled, lifted his pant leg and pointed down. “New shoes!” he said.
One of Otis Armstrong’s regrets about his recent honors –– he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in late 2012 and he is going into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame tonight –– is that his neighborhood friend, Darryl Stingley, no longer is around to congratulate him and feel a part of it. They were roommates at Purdue for three years and then NFL comrades, though never on the same team. They remained close — or closer — after Stingley was paralyzed by the infamous hit from Jack Tatum in 1978. And when Darryl died in 2007, a part of Otis went into the ground with him.
After leaving Purdue, where he was the Big Ten’s most valuable player in 1972, Armstrong spent eight seasons with the Broncos, who drafted him in the first round with the ninth overall choice in 1973. He led the NFL in rushing in 1974, with 1,407 yards, and it was one of the more remarkable seasons for an NFL rushing leader in league history. Because Coach John Ralston wanted to get both Floyd Little and Armstrong on the field at the same time, Otis spent half the season at fullback. Even he admitted he was miscast there, but he did the best he could to lead Little though the holes. “Halfway through the season, I was the leading fullback in the league in rushing — and in headaches,” Armstrong said, laughing darkly. Then Little was injured against the Baltimore Colts on November 10 and played sparingly the rest of the season. Armstrong moved back to tailback, averaged over 150 yards a game in the final four weeks and, in the final regular-season league statistics, outdistanced runner-up Don Woods of the Chargers by a whopping 245 yards. The only other three rushers cracking 1,000 yards that season were O.J. Simpson, Lawrence McCutcheon and Franco Harris.
Armstrong had one more 1,000-yard season, in 1976. As his career progressed, he was in agony with neck, spine and back issues, and he had just turned 30 when he retired.
“It’s the life of a running back,” he says of the pain that lingers. “I don’t know a running back who doesn’t feel that way in the morning. Floyd (Little) and I have talked about it. But if we had it to do over again, we’d go right back out there.”
He and his wife, Yvonne, settled in what now is Centennial early in his Denver career, and they still live there. He became, and has stayed, a Coloradan.
He led the NFL in rushing in 1974 with 1,407 yards, and it was one of the more remarkable seasons for an NFL rushing leader in league history.