Russell Wilson Gives It Up For The Shorties

Lil’ man gets the short end of the stick in life and football too. In the NFL, short quarterbacks are as rare as takin’ shorts in the hood. The list of 6’0 signal callers to play in the NFL is short. The list of successful QBs standing no taller than the extinct Anthropornis penguin is even shorter.

Since 1983, every Super Bowl winning quarterback except Drew Brees has stood 6′ 2″ or better. Only five quarterbacks on NFL rosters were 6-foot or under in 2012 – Brees, Chase Daniel, Seneca Wallace, Mike Vick and Troy Smith.

Last year’s Super Bowl featured 6’-6”Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick who’s 6’5”. The 2013 Draft was littered with prototypically-tall QBs such as the Jets’ Geno Smith and Philly Eagles backup Matt Barkley, who are 6’3.” Bills QB EJ Manuel is 6’5”, Tyler Bray (Kansas City) is 6’6” and Bucs QB Mike Glennon is 6’7”.

Flacco is the tallest quarterback to both start and win a Super Bowl. Russell Wilson could become the shortest. While skyscraper sized QBs are common place, you won’t see too many 5-foot-11 studs like Wilson in your NFL–viewing lifetimes, because history suggests he won’t last that long at his size and he will be moderately successful at best. As auspicious as Wilson’s college career at Wisconsin was, the dynamic Seattle Seahawks QB still got the “little man” treatment and had to wait until round three of the 2012 NFL Draft to get his shines.

Some of the greatest talent evaluators in NFL history slept on his skills, including former Indianapolis Colts head personnel man Bill Polian, who said this after Seattle drafted RW:

“He’s not going to be a starting quarterback. “That’s not what you draft him to be. You draft him to be a backup quarterback who can play six games a year. And if he plays six games a year, there’s every likelihood that you’ll win four if you’ve got a good defense.”

Wilson had to wait for taller stiffs like Brandon Weeden and Brock Osweiler to be selected. And after leading the Seahawks to 24 wins and an NFC West Division crown in his first two seasons, Wilson still gets paid more like a fringe player than the All-Pro QB he is. His $526, 217 base salary this year, ranked number 1256 in the NFL. He must get paid by the inch – a disrespect that is sure to change as Wilson continues to change the QB game.

It’s been 60 years since a QB under 6’0” has been drafted in the first two rounds. The 5’10” Ted Marchibroda went No. 5 overall to Pittsburgh in 1953. In an April, 2013 article, looked at the 214 NFL QBs in history with at least 1,000 career pass attempts in the regular season. The average height of the 214 quarterbacks is 74.6 or just over 6’2”. When it gets under 6’0”, the sample size drops to just seven players.












Sonny Jurgensen











Bob Berry











Pat Haden











Jim Finks











Arnie Herber











Doug Flutie











Eddie LeBaron











The careers of a few of these rare pigskin slingers have been solid. Jurgensen, a three-time passing champ and Herber are in the Hall of Fame, but they probably wouldn’t be considered great by today’s standards. Eddie LeBaron is generously listed as 5-9 in many publications and was called everything from the “Little General,” to the “Little Magician.” Standing more like 5-foot-7, 160 pounds, LeBaron is the most diminutive QB to consistently impact an NFL game. Despite his height limitations, LeBaron lasted 11 seasons in the NFL, his first seven with the Washington Redskins (1952-53, 55-59) and four with the Dallas Cowboys (1960-63). LeBaron was a four-time Pro Bowler who completed 50 percent of his passes (898 of 1,796) for 13,400 yards and 104 touchdowns. He was able to adjust his throwing technique to throw over lineman – a few of which were as statuesque as today’s lineman – standing as tall as 6-foot-6.

“I never had a problem,” he told Redskins Insider. “I didn’t have balls knocked down. I released it high and quick… I had a pretty good record throwing the ball.”

The biggest mistake the hare made was sleeping on the tortoise. It’s one of the oldest moral stories and a warning against judging the magnitude of a person’s heart by the physical limitations of their appearance. LeBaron was also an intelligent QB, who was deft at perplexing defenses with his ability to hide the ball after the snap. He was a walking play action pass and he wasn’t considered a rushing QB, but similar to today’s dual-threats, LeBaron evaded defenders with cat-quick feet and his rifle arm. He  opened passing lanes with his scrambling which allowed him to throw accurately to open receivers.

When the Seahawks’ second-year QB takes the field for Super Bowl XLVIII, you’ll see the 2014 version of LeBaron on full display. A litany of accolades and prestigious history awaits Wilson if Seattle’s “Mr. Electricity,” can go into MetLife Stadium and defeat (Peyton Manning) “The Last Great Pure Pocket Passer” and hoist the Lombardi Trophy high above his head.

A win for Wilson would cap off an improbable rise to glory. It would be the final validation in a career that has endured so many haters and doubters polluting his journey with pessimistic banter. Most of all, it will be a win for those under 6-foot field generals who are often misrepresented by their unimposing anatomy.

Never has there been a Super Bowl-winning shorty or a guy so willing to wear his ridiculed height as a badge of honor. Aside from the many firsts he’s already been, add “King of The NFL’s Mighty Midgets” to Wilson’s resume of unprecedented accomplishments.

And as kind, cultured and cordial as Wilson is off the football field and in front of cameras, his mountain-sized manner, undeniable leadership and unwavering confidence is fueled by a chip on his shoulder that comes from people telling him he was too short to be great. When his team is in its darkest hours, there’s a mean streak within Wilson that surfaces and contains any menacing situation. He’s got an inner passion that results in the smallest guy on the field making the biggest impact on the game’s final score. Wilson is like a miniature bushwhacker, hacking his way through a dense forest of 10-foot weeds and coming out on the other end unscathed and ready to reap the rewards.

Whether it’s being a ruthless, historical war monger like Napoleon or having to tippy-toe kiss your model girlfriend like Danny Devito and Kevin Hart or tying Peyton Manning’s rookie-record for TD passes while getting your ribcage rearranged by Sasquatch; These shorties are propelled to improbable greatness by haters and height discrimination.

There’s been some dope 6-footers at QB. Super Bowl champions too. Brees holds his share of NFL passing records and is probably the most decorated. Mike Vick is barely 6’0. Vick was drafted No. 1 overall by the Falcons in 2001, and his crazy legs changed the QB position as much as his arm. In his prime, Vick was the most electrifying player in the sport.

Joe Theisman was roughly 6-feet. He threw for over 25,000 yards and won a Super Bowl with the Redskins in the ‘80s. Get this: Theisman threw to a group of deadly mini-receivers called The Smurfs. Old school dudes like HOF QB Fran Tarkenton (6’0) and Doug Flutie — the five-foot assassin with the roughneck business – were other rare exceptions.

Flutie was 5’9 1/2, but his spirit and relentless nature had a Tebow-like affect on the NFL during stints with the Bears, Pats, Bills and Chargers. Despite having a prolific college career, NFL execs didn’t come knocking. Flutie was selected in the 11th round of the 1985 NFL Draft, making him the lowest drafted Heisman winner in history. Because of size concerns, Flutie was forced to play in the USFL and then the CFL, where he smashed records and eventually got a chance to play – and succeed in the NFL—going 38-28 as a starter. Flutie’s pro career wasn’t dominant (86 career TD passes), but he was a trend setter, and always played with a wreckless sense of urgency. He had no choice. The quick hook was always in effect, and Flutie feels it stunted his development. It’s the biggest issue he has with the way the NFL treats its little people, something he conveyed to, last summer .

“I just think that they don't, in general, give the (short quarterbacks) the opportunities or stick with them…If you don't have success right away, you're out the door,” Flutie said. “If he were the 6’4 guy who was a true pocket passer, drafted in the first round and the franchise decided this is our guy, then he goes out and loses his first three or four starts — they have patience with him. And that's my frustration with it."

NFL coaches and talent evaluators saw Flutie’s height as a detriment, particularly during the nasty, sack-sick ‘80s and ‘90s. Current QBs like Wilson have advantages Flutie didn’t enjoy, like defensive rule changes and the spread offense, which allows QBs to utilize their legs and wider passing lanes, to avoid getting passes swatted by taller lineman. Despite these setbacks, Flutie’s shining NFL moments and Wilson’s recent burst, has paved the way for other “undersized” quarterbacks to get a legitimate shot at running a team and growing into success.

The NFL has a height-complex. NFL execs list the obvious stuff, like field vision and durability as reasons they clamor over 6’6, syzurp- sippin’ stiffs like JaMarcus Russell, and ignore cats like Flutie and Wilson.

Wilson’s quick rise to QB of a Seahawks team fighting for the franchise’s first NFL title is a serious blow to the “taller-is-better” philosophy. Maybe, being the highest drafted QB under 6’0, in at least 15 years, helps other undersized passers get a shot. The numbers don’t exactly support it, yet, but only time will tell.

Before Wilson surpassed the 15-TD plateau as a rookie in 2013, Flutie was the only other under 6’0 QB to do it since 1970. The infrequency of this leel production is probably why since the 1970’s merger, there’s only been 8 QBs drafted that were shorter than Wilson.

Wilson’s opportunity can be directly attributed to the progressive mind of Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, who coveted Wilson’s athleticism, decisive leadership and toughness. Carroll rolled the dice — and some heads — with his support of Wilson, who continues to muzzle doubters and fight the good fight for the little giants. It’s a polarizing topic. Lil’ QBs are rarer than black QBs and usually more dangerous than the Mafia. The ones that come up small can terminate a GM’s career; but the shorties that ball can murder defenses.

That’s what Wilson does. He crushed San Francisco in the NFC Championship game with the same Houdini act that has brought him to a point where a Super Bowl victory is no optical illusion. Talent evaluators may still generally prefer the Tom Brady’s and Peyton Manning’s. They have movie star grills and Greek-god physiques that make scouts salivate. However, with the NFL being the copy cat league it is – if Wilson keeps balling like Gary Coleman on steroids – then football “traditionalists” will care less and less if a prospect looks more like a gym teacher than an NFL QB. In Wilson’s case looks are more than deceiving and he can lay the height heat to rest by pushing Peyton closer to retirement and officially marking the beginning of a changing of the guard at the NFL QB position. It seems the meek has officially inherited the earth. 

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.