My Favorites: Small but Mighty


Illustra­tion by
Taylor Callery

John Fitzgerald

As a senior on his high school football team, John Fitzpatrick, SOC/BA '06, weighed a waifish 125 pounds. It's no wonder, then, that his pigskin career ended when he got to college. Still, Fitzpatrick craved contact, so he competed on AU's rugby club team and played the sport into his late 20s, when he tore his ACL during a touch rugby game.  

A marketing manager for the National Football League Players Association, Fitzpatrick has attended the last five Super Bowls, and he routinely rubs shoulders with the NFL's biggest and brightest stars—as well as its smallest ones.

"When you shake hands with some of these guys, they're so strong they almost crush your hand. Anytime you meet an offensive lineman you're like, wow, this guy is massive," says Fitzpatrick, who stands five foot nine inches tall and has bulked up to 155 pounds. "Then you meet some other guys and you think, this guy's not much bigger than me, I can't believe he's in the NFL."

illustration of football players, six feet or under

Fitzpatrick's favorite football players six feet or shorter:

Drew Brees: Despite standing "only" six feet tall, Brees has excelled as a quarterback at every level. In college he was a prolific passer, but draft experts felt he was too small to play the position in the NFL. One Super Bowl win and multiple Pro Bowls later, he's proved his doubters wrong.

Nate Ebner: The six-foot Ebner played rugby in college, walked onto the Ohio State football team, and ended up becoming a special teams stud for the Patriots.

Don Beebe: At five foot eleven, Beebe makes this list because of one memorable play: In Super Bowl XXVII, he chased down Leon Lett and knocked the football out of his hands before Lett crossed the goal line. Beebe's Bills were hopelessly behind, but his effort demonstrates why you never give up.

Doug Flutie: Among the smallest quarterbacks ever, the five-foot-ten Flutie had many memorable moments, including his legendary 1984 Hail Mary touchdown pass in college and his drop kick extra point for New England Patriots in 2006.  

Antonio Brown: He's demonstrated that you don't have to be big to excel as a wide receiver. Taken in the sixth round of the NFL draft, the five foot ten Brown has tormented defenses.

Darrell Green: At five foot nine, this two-time Super Bowl champion and member of the Hall of Fame was one of the fastest players in the game for nearly 20 seasons.  

Steve Smith: He's just plain fun to watch. Always known for being a fierce competitor, Smith's had a very productive career catching passes across the middle, despite being five foot nine.

Barry Sanders: One of the most elusive runners in NFL history, the five-foot-eight Sanders averaged more than 1,500 yards a season.

Danny Woodhead: One of the top Division II players in college, Woodhead went undrafted in 2008, largely because he's five foot eight. He signed with the Jets and has contributed for the Patriots and Chargers.

Darren Sproles: One of the smallest players in the NFL, the five-foot-six Sproles specializes in catching passes out of the backfield.