Reggie (Super Gnat) Smith crossed his itty-bitty legs and folded his teeny-weeny hands.
"Yeah, I remember that song, 'Short People,' " he said after morning practice. "That guy said short people got no reason to live. That's disgusting."
Smith returned punts and kickoffs for the Atlanta Falcons in 1980 and 1981 and now is trying out for a spot as a returner and wide receiver with the Washington Federals. He takes pride in his diminutive stature.
"I'm about 5-foot-4," he said. "I'm pretty sure I'm the smallest guy to ever play in the NFL."
In his two seasons with the Falcons, Smith averaged 22.9 yards on kick returns and 9.2 yards on punt returns.
"My size really helps me on returns," he said. "When I was with Atlanta in the second year, we played Green Bay, and we were down, 17-3, in the fourth quarter. I went back for the kickoff and we set up a big return. I could see about seven guys coming straight at me. There were two guys, about 230 pounds apiece, coming for me with a hole about 10 inches wide between them. I went right under their arms through the hole and took it to the one. I should have scored."
After three days of practice, Smith pulled off the most spectacular play in the brief history of the Federals.
In a passing drill, former Kansas City quarterback Mike Nott looked for Smith on a deep fly pattern. Hollis Hall, a 5-foot-11 defensive back from Clemson, kept pace with Smith.
The ball went up and so did Hall and Smith. But Smith outjumped Hall by more than two feet, made the catch and ran downfield past the befuddled defender. Hall returned to the huddle with his head in his hands. Smith returned with the ball.
Delighted with the catch, Coach Ray Jauch went over to talk to Smith. As they stood there, with Jauch's hand on Smith's shoulder pad, it looked like a Norman Rockwell scene entitled, "Pee-Wee Player and His Dad."
"He went up 18 feet for that one," Jauch said later. "Reggie's an exciting player. If he were 6 foot tall, every team in the NFL would be after him."
"In Atlanta, they never gave me a chance as a receiver," said Smith. "They didn't have any confidence in me there. But last year I played wih the Charlotte Storm; that's a semipro team. I terrorized that league. I'd get my two or three touchdown catches in the first half and we'd win games, 60-0."
Smith did not sign an official contract with the Federals until today. The Storm still owned the rights to him.
"This was the second year of a two-year contract with the Storm," said Smith. "With them, I was making 1 per cent of the gate, about $2,500 a year. I had to buy out of the contract for $5,000 just to play with the Feds. With Washington, I'll be making about half of what I'd make in the NFL, but I want the chance."
Smith, 26, left a job as a history teacher at Garinger High School in Charlotte, N.C., to come to training camp. "The school board knows my first priority is to play ball. I'll go back only if things don't work out here, but I hope they do.
"This league came around just at the right time for me and a lot of guys like me," said Smith, an alumnus of North Carolina Central.
"There are a lot of guys who have a lot of talent who never got a break in the NFL because they were from small colleges. Whoever thought about having this league came up with it at the right time, when there was a lot of talent around."
So far, Smith has impressed the coaches. He ran a 4.49 40-yard-dash and runs patterns--true to his nickname--like a light-crazed gnat.
"My sister's boyfriend gave me that name when I was in high school," said Smith. "I wasn't the first to have it, though. I got if from Nolan (Super Gnat) Smith, who ran back kicks for the Chiefs about 10 years ago. He was my hero for a while."
In a violent game, Smith claims it's smart to play close to the turf.
"I don't take the licks some of the bigger guys get," he said. "If you're returning a kick and you get hit by a guy who is your size straight on, you get hammered. With me, I don't get it as bad, even though I'm a lot smaller. I think I'm one of the stronger wide receivers around in the pros. I only weigh about 160, but I can bench-press 260.
"I'm trying to set an example for small kids as well as fulfill my own goals. You know, all their lives, especially when they're in school, kids who aren't tall don't have the confidence.
"Hell, I didn't even know I was short until somebody told me, and I've been this small all my life. It was a female who told me. I was stunned when she told me. But I won't be intimidated. I want to set goals for small people."