"Let's see here," Jenkins said after the New Orleans game. "I got a baaaad knot on my right leg where I was kicked. It'll swell all week. I got a bad cherry on my right hip. My shoulder throbs and my stomach hurts. And my tail.... Listen: I caught three passes today. After the third one, some friendly tackier said to me, 'Way to go, little guy,' and he patted me on the fanny. You know, the way that players do. Well, hell, his pat almost knocked me for five yards."
But all that is borderline-small stuff; more realistically, it is Reggie Smith's appearance as a full-fledged pro that is stunning. Now we're talking tiny. Just listen:
•"Actually, Reggie might have to stretch to make five-foot-four," says Bennett. "And the first impression upon seeing him is that he can't make it."
•"But he's got all that speed and hustle," says Eddie LeBaron, the Falcons' general manager, who isn't exactly towering himself at 5'7", and who was known as The Little General in his 11 years as a quarterback with the Redskins and Cowboys. "And Reggie Smith's got a certain charisma that heightens interest in the game. Uh, heightens interest—you get that?"
•"What I'd like is a guy who is 6'4" and weighs 250 pounds who can do all the same things that Smith does," says Jimmy Raye, the Falcons' receiver coach. "But what I got is Reggie. I admire him. It's not a little man's game, but he's got the ability and desire. In our exhibition game against Tampa Bay, he actually got lost behind the wedge and they couldn't find him." Raye pantomimes looking all around for Reggie, lifting his legs and shaking his pants cuffs. "And then, when they did find him, it was like they were trying to tackle a tree stump."
•And finally: "I've adjusted to rearing up, looking down at the ground just behind the line and spotting Reggie," says the 6'4" Bartkowski. "In case we need him, Smith is what you might call our fourth deputy assistant wide receiver. In fact, in a crisis, we could run a play designed just for...." He pauses to consider the wisdom of revealing the details of a play just for Smith. "But, well, just say that whenever he gets the call, he'll be ready."
He will, he will. Smith has a broad, open face, remarkably without guile, and there's no mistaking what's on his mind. He watches every game with a sort of little-boy wistfulness, head cocked, sometimes unconsciously swaying in response to the action on the field. And if there is one move he has mastered, it is the old follow-the-coach number: He drifts ghostlike behind the pacing Bennett, positioning himself so that every time the coach turns, he catches a glimpse of Reggie Smith—that is, if he looks down. Uh, hi there, Mister Bennett. I just happened to be in the neighborhood. Need any passes received?
"I've always, always wanted to do this," Smith says. "I've been a walk-on 'all my life. Listen: I didn't even start growing until I was a junior in college; I must have been all of five feet tall." This was in Durham, N.C. Smith has five sisters and one brother, and they're all little people—maybe an inch, no more, he says, between the tallest and the shortest. "And it was always the same," he says. " 'You've come to play football? Why, you'll get killed.' "
But Smith played ball, all right—kick returner and wide receiver for North Carolina Central College and by graduation in 1978 he not only hadn't been killed, but he was all-conference at both, positions. That accomplishment attracted the interest of seven pro scouts—until they actually saw Smith for real, instead of on paper. "And you know what they all told me," he says. "Ah, well."
Smith has earned not one, but two bachelor degrees, one in sociology, one in history, and after a year of grad school in guidance counseling at Indiana State he came back to Charlotte with a master plan: He would teach junior high by day and play semi-pro ball by night, for the Carolina Chargers of the American Football Association. There—at last!—an Atlanta scout spotted and signed him. But the little people in the audience shouldn't jump up and down just yet; there is more indignity to come.