August 05, 2022

The American football season always seems to sneak up on me and this year was no exception.  While I was scrolling channels for Royals baseball last night, I noticed the Hall of Fame Game was going to be on.  The Royals had played an afternoon game which freed my evening up for football.  This year’s game featured the Las Vegas Raiders and the Jacksonville Jaguars.  The Jaguars currently have three Arkansas Razorbacks on the rooster with Jeremiah Ledbetter (defensive tackle), Grant Morgan (linebacker), and Montaric Brown (secondary).  The Hall of Fame Game is a week prior to the start of the pre-season and gives all three players an extra opportunity to impress the coaches.  Morgan is from the town where we live and played with our nephew.  He was considered too small to play and was a walk on for Arkansas.  He went on to be named to multiple All-America and All-SEC teams, served as a team captain in 2020 and 2021, and was twice named a Burlsworth Trophy finalist (most outstanding player who began as a walk on).  Morgan signed in 2022 as an undrafted free agent for the Jaguars.

When I looked online, I found the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game is an annual National Football League (NFL) exhibition game in Canton, Ohio, held the weekend of the Hall of Fame’s induction ceremonies.  The game has been played at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, located adjacent to the Hall of Fame building since 1962.  The NFL selects the two teams in advance of the preseason schedule, and they are usually announced around the time the new Hall of Fame members are announced, or Super Bowl week.  The teams selected try to match a notable player entering the Hall that year to maximize attendance and publicity of the game.  Since the Hall of Fame Game and the Hall of Fame induction ceremony are on the weekend before the normal NFL preseason season starts, both teams play an additional exhibition game compared to the remaining teams in the league.  All 32 current NFL teams have at least one appearance in the Hall of Fame Game.

One of the six players inducted into the Hall for 2022 was linebacker Sam Mills.  Mills signed with the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent in 1981 but was released at the end of preseason because he was too small (5’9”).  In 1982, Mills signed with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League but was released before the season because he was too small.  Mills finally got his chance in the United States Football League (USFL) with the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars (moved to Baltimore in 1985).  In his three years with the Stars Mills became known around the league for both his tenacity on the field and his leadership off it.  Mills led the Stars to two USFL championships, was named to three All-USFL teams and is a member of the USFL’s All-Time Team.  He has been described as arguably the best defensive player (along with Reggie White) in the short history of the league.  After the Stars won the 1985 USFL title, head coach Jim Mora was signed to coach the New Orleans Saints.  Mills came with him and finally got a shot at the NFL.  Mills played 12 seasons in the NFL for New Orleans and Carolina and was named to the NFL All-Pro team three times.

THOUGHTS:  While American football likes to tout the “bigger, stronger, faster” motif, that is not always the case.  Of the 1696 players on 2012 NFL rosters, there were 323 players weighing 200 pounds or less (19%), 320 players under six feet tall (18.9%), and only 361 players weighing at least 300 pounds (21%).  Jack Shapiro was the shortest and smallest NFL player of all-time at 5’1” and 119 pounds, playing one game in 1929 for the NFL’s Staten Island Stapletons.  Mills is another example that desire, and heart (and skill) are more important than size.  That is true outside of athletics as well.  Stephen Hawking had a rare early-onset, slow-progressing form of motor neuron disease (ALS) which gradually paralyzed him over decades.  At the time of his death at 76 years in 2018, he was known as one of the foremost cosmologists in the world.  Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.

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