American football (not the stuff the Europeans play) is a tough sport. So, you'd think the men playing it, from the powerful quarterbacks to the shifty receivers; all have one thing in common – they all tower over us mere mortals. If you said yes, you'd be wrong.
The NFL has a long history of short players who've taken advantage of their stubby size and have excelled in the sport. In case you were wondering, the NFL player who ran out of the HMGA2 gene (the gene responsible for making people taller) at 5.1" is Jack 'Soapy' Shapiro.
Shapiro's early days began in Russia, where his parents and seven siblings emigrated to the US in 1907. From an early age, he was extremely undersized, which is one of the main reasons his father wasn't too excited when Jack announced that he wanted to play football.
Apart from not having the required height, Shapiro also recalled how his father was vehemently opposed to his youngest son playing football, especially because two of Shapiro's older brothers had bad accidents playing sports before him, and the family wasn't doing very well financially.
Having proven that size wasn't everything, Shapiro attended trials for the New York University football team and won a position on the squad. He used to think people wouldn't take him seriously, so he reached out to the head coach, Chick Meehan, to secure a place on the Hobart College team. He was shocked to be given a roster spot and one of 30 scholarships at NYU instead.
He eventually earned his initial position during his sophomore year, playing as a fullback for the Violets. In 1927, they went 7–1–2 and outscored their opponents by a whopping margin of 345–65. His career was full of excitement. He got his varsity letter, played in front of more than 85,000 people at the Yankees Stadium against Fordham, and even got the honor of meeting coach Knute Rockne.
He didn't earn the nickname "Soupy" for nothing. Despite his small size, Shapiro was a skilled blocking back who could disrupt defenders by targeting their knees and legs. According to official records, he played in only one game, the Minneapolis blowout, in which he got seven yards on just five rushes and returned a punt for 12 yards.
However, Shapiro recalled being on the team's roster for five games, including a preseason contest in which he scored a 35-yard touchdown run and two regular season games. His limited playing time made him the shortest and smallest player in NFL history, a record recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1999 and remains unbroken. Jack Shapiro is proof that athleticism comes in all sizes.