Aw, he's just a little guy.
Being small is in no way a leg-up in the world of sports. It, by no means, is a death sentence, either. But to excel at a sport typically dominated by taller, weightier athletes, you have to have an X-factor in your game—an edge.
The following are the little guys who had that something it took to become stars in their sports. Be it through moxie, speed or raw determination, they overcame significant odds and imposed their will on a big boy's game.
They're pesky, annoying and extremely good at what they do—they're the feistiest little guys in sports, and they can play you out of your big size 11 shoes.
LaMichael James is still adjusting to the NFL with the 49ers, but his days in Oregon showed his ability to mix-it up despite his 5’8”, 190-pound frame.
After starting running back LeGarrette Blount was taken out the game for punching another player into sweet oblivion, James was thrown into a starting role—and to say he flourished would be an understatement.
James was one of the most elusive college backs since Reggie Bush, in my opinion. He has an excellent spin move and an ability to change direction rapidly. And even when he’s wrapped up, those little legs of his keep a-pumpin’.
A Little Fact: James averaged 8.9 yards per carry his senior year in high school. Almost a first down per time he got the ball. Ridiculous.
Whether you think Patrick Kane is a hockey-playing savant or a drunken mugger who happens to play hockey, you have to at least respect his moves on the ice.
In his first year in the NHL, the Blackhawks rookie center scored 72 goals—the most of any rookie in the league (and pretty damn good in general).
Kane also boosted his team to a Stanley Cup victory by scoring an overtime goal against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Six of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals.
A Little Fact: Kane is the youngest player to hit a Stanley Cup-winning shot in NHL history—he was 22 years old.
A fiery and talented little guy, Nate Robinson does not shy away from confrontation.
A three-time Slam Dunk Contest champion, Nate Robinson is a competitive guy who will get right up into you on defense. His up-close-and-personal style defending is highly frustrating and can even get under the skin of guys like Cliff Paul.
Or is that Chris Paul?
A Little Fact: He stuffed Yao Ming. Ka-boom.
Doug Flutie was five feet and ten inches quarterbacking victory.
The Maryland native played football at Boston College, where he threw the famous “Flutie Hail Mary” to defeat the Miami Hurricanes in 1984—a play that would help him win the Heisman Trophy a week later.
Despite his diminutive size, Flutie was drafted into the NFL in 1986 and would spend years kicking around teams in the NFL until leaving the league for an eight-year foray into the Canadian Football League (where he would of course become a legend).
He returned to the NFL in 1999, signing with the Buffalo Bills where he continued to produce in spite of his doubters, who believed he was far too small to be an effective NFL quarterback.
Flutie was too small, honestly, but that didn’t stop him from trying his hardest and making some magical moments when he had the ball in his hands.
Maurice “The Rocket” Richard could scrap with the best of them.
The 5’10”, 170-pound Montreal Canadiens forward was the first player in hockey to score 50 goals in 50 games and was described as having “blinding speed,” a “devastating shot” and a “nasty streak.”
He was once knocked out cold during a hockey match in 1952 and came back with a head bandage on and scored the game winning goal single-handedly.
We voted. The Rocket gets in the feisty club.
A Little Fact: Richard punched two referees—on separate occasions.
Air Force quarterback Dee Dowis was 5’10” and 153 pounds of option-running frustration for his opponents.
Dowis worked his magic in Air Force’s wishbone offense, running the option with a skill and grit that earned him accolades as a “four-star field general.”
The high school recruit “nobody wanted” went on to set the NCAA Division I record for career yards rushed by a quarterback (later broken by someone else on this list).
A Little Fact: Dowis finished sixth in the 1989 Heisman Trophy vote.
No matter where he is in the league or how he is getting the ball—once Darren Sproles get the rock in his hands, things are about to get interesting.
Sproles has that escape-artist quality and runs into thickets of defenders, only to shoot out the other side running free. His ability to run the ball and return kicks helped him earn the NFL record for single-season all-purpose yards, racking up 2,696 in total yardage in 2011.
A Little Fact: Sprole’s first two touchdowns in the NFL came in the same day, with him taking back both an opening kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in a 2007 game against the Indianapolis Colts.
Speed. Intensity. Physics-murdering free kicks.
Brazilian wingback Roberto Carlos was a special player for the Spanish soccer club Real Madrid as well as the Brazil national team.
Carlos was quick like the bunny rabbit, a strong challenger and he plied his trade in professional soccer for 21 years (1991-2012), helping Brazil win the World Cup in 2002.
A Little Fact: Brazilian soccer legend Pélé named Carlos one of the 125 best soccer players ever.
Quite possibly one of the best point guards to ever slip on the short-shorts, John Stockton was a passing wizard and three-point assassin in the NBA.
The NBA’s all-time assist leader played for 19 seasons in the league and participated in 1,506 out of 1,526 possible games he could have played in.
If that’s not feisty, I don’t know what is.
A Little Fact: Stockton played in the 1992 Olympics with a fracture in his right fibula.
The Houston Astros traded little Joe Morgan to the Cincinnati Reds in 1971 with the hopes of replacing him with more power in the lineup.
Which turned out to be a very, very bad idea for him
Morgan’s bat would help the Reds win back-to-back World Series in 1975 and 1976—years in which he also won National League Player of the Year.
A Little Fact: After retiring from the sport of baseball, Morgan became a sportscaster. And he was terrible at it.
Anyone who ever had the pleasure of owning Warrick Dunn during his prime years in the NFL knows this little man has wheels.
Dunn tore up the NCAA during his time at Florida State, rushing for a still-standing school record of 3,959 yards in three years before being drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1997.
Averaging over four yards a carry during his 11-year career in the NFL, the 5’9”, 187-pound running back was invited to three Pro Bowls and won the Associated Press’ NFL Rookie of the Year award in 1997.
A Little Fact: Dunn was a two-sport All-American at Florida State, specializing in the 4x100 relay.
Two World Series in the bag and a World Series MVP award in 2006 are the icing on former St. Louis Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein’s cake.
The 5’6” infielder could hit with surprising power for his size, earning Eckstein accolades as a “pesky” leadoff hitter.
A Little Fact: Eckstein is one of few players who’ve won the World Series with a National League team (St. Louis Cardinal, 2006) and an American League team (Anaheim Angels, 2002).
Small man. Big ups.
Spud Webb battled his way from junior college basketball to the NBA and was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks in 1985.
Webb wasn’t a prolific scorer in the NBA but tallied assists by the bunches as a facilitating playmaker. His biggest achievement, however, was defeating Dominique Wilkins in the 1986 NBA Slam Dunk Contest.
A Little Fact: Webb is one of two players under six-feet tall to ever win the NBA Dunk Contest (the other being Nate Robinson).
Former NFL all-purpose man Antwaan Randle El has worn many hats in his day.
Before playing wide receiver in the NFL, Randle El played quarterback for Indiana University. The 5’10", 190-pound speedster was a matchup disaster for most teams, who had to stack the box and guard against his ridiculously slippery running ability.
Randle El’s speed and throwing accuracy made him a true double-threat at Indiana. He holds the NCAA Division I record for career rushing yards by a quarterback and was the first player ever to throw for 40 touchdowns and run for 40 touchdowns during his college career.
Barcelona’s little scoring machine is the most infuriatingly unstoppable little guys in soccer at the moment.
Opponents just can’t keep the 25-year-old Argentinian striker from putting the ball in the back of the net. Messi’s ball control, unpredictable shooting decisions and determination to reach crosses have all contributed to making him the deadliest scorer in the game today.
Being the smallest man in the NBA made Muggsy Bogues noticeable, but his ability to overcome his size and stick around for so long is what made him near and dear to so many basketball fans during the 90s.
Bogues raced up and down the floor like a jackrabbit, using his speed with his uncanny passing ability to create assists. He played fourteen years in the league and managed to average a double-double in points/assists in the 1993-94 season.
A Little Fact: Bogues packed Patrick Ewing. So there’s that.
What could Barry Sanders not do?
He didn’t do too much kicking that I remember. He might’ve been awkward once (when he was a baby and tried to walk for the first time).
But besides that, the man could flow like water through defensive lines—plunging into piles and leaping out the other side. The Detroit Lions star running back could also ping off tackles like a rubber bouncy ball.
The man was a myth.
Oft-considered the best soccer player ever to play the game, Brazilian forward Pele has become the golden standard for measuring greatness in the sport he dominated.
Pele managed 92 caps and 77 goals in international play, using his deadly mixture of speed and ball control to cut through defenses like cheesecloth. He is also the only soccer player ever to be on three World Cup-winning teams.
He is a smaller man with a hulking shadow, and he sits near the top of this list like the giant he truly is.
A Little Fact: He could foot juggle like a man possessed, naturally.
The NFL’s all-time leading rusher is one of the scrappiest men alive.
A Little Fact: Smith played with a dislocated shoulder against the Giants in 1993.
One of the smallest and goofiest looking men to ever put on the pinstripes, New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra was a one-of-a-kind player that we’ll never see again in Major League Baseball.
Berra was a strange little man and a slugging machine for someone of his size. He batted an average of .285 and smacked out 358 home runs during his 19-year career in the league (1946-1965).
He was known for swinging at anything—garbage pitches, low balls and everything in between, and often he hit balls that no one else could.
A Little Fact: Yogi reportedly said this (among many other great lines): “How can you think and hit at the same time?”
Love him for his skill or hate him for his cutthroat approach to the game, but never say Diego Maradona wasn’t one of the scrappiest little men to ever strap on soccer cleats.
The former Argentinian great dazzled audiences with his magician-like ability to move the ball through traffic on the pitch. Maradona hammered defenses—not the other way around—and he is oft-considered (alongside Pele) as the best soccer player in history.
A Little Fact: God’s own hand came down and helped Maradona win the 1986 World Cup.