An Interview with the Chiefs Noland Smith

The Kansas City Chiefs of the late 1960s were one of the dominant teams in AFL history.  They had future Hall of Fame members on offense, defense, and special teams.  Their owner and head coach have busts in Canton, and one could argue that the induction of at least four other team members is long overdue.

Mixed up in all of that greatness was an outstanding kick returner as well.  Standing just 5’5″ among the greats of the game, it is understandable how Noland Smith may be overlooked.  But he proved on many occasions that he deserved a spot alongside his massive teammates.  In his short, 39-game career, Smith led the AFL in yards-per-kick-off-return (1967) and yards-per-punt-return (1968).  He had a 106-yard kick off return for a touchdown as a rookie, and returned a punt for 80 yards and six points the following year.  He led the AFL in both kick off & punt returns, and in kick off & punt return yardage in 1967.

Like the man himself, Noland Smith’s career was short but brilliant.  A victim of small rosters that rarely allowed for specialists, he was released by the Chiefs six games into the 1969 season.  He finished the year with the San Francisco 49ers, before retiring back to Mississippi.

Noland Smith is an avid Tales from the AFL reader.  I recently had the opportunity to speak with him over the phone and discuss his years in “The Other League.”  See the audio player above.


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Todd Tobias (790 Posts)

Todd Tobias's interest in the American Football League began in 1998, when he wrote my master's thesis about Sid Gillman. He created this site to educate and entertain football fans with the stories of the American Football League, 1960-1969. You can follow Todd and get more AFL history on Twitter @TalesfromtheAFL.

2 Responses to An Interview with the Chiefs Noland Smith

  1. afl says:

    A great returner was Noland Smith, and, appears an even greater guy he remains. Still have a letter he hand wrote to me in response mine 25 years ago. Even invited me – a stranger – to stop by and see him if I was ever in his area. Noland comes across as a genuine and a grateful guy, the kind that turns an childhood fan into a lifelong one, and who never disappoints; compare & contrast with today’s ‘me me me’ diva types, who number far too many. Some childhood ‘heroes’ turn out to be less than worthy upon the chance interaction with, a pedestal they were placed upon having proven too high. The case ‘Supergnat’, he epitomizes the opposite – class. What I would give to be able to turn back the calendar to 1967, and watch him bring a kick & punt back one more time.

    Well, misty-eyed reminiscing finished, it’s always fun to look back at what was given as official heights, weights, speeds of a player. Noland ‘Supergnat’ (or ‘Jet’) Smith, was listed at 5’8 163 lbs. when drafted. Later, according old sports magazines of the day, he was in actuality 5’6 1/2 154 lbs. (though KC newspapers listed him as 5’7 158 during that exhibition stretch 1967.) That he might have been shorter, attributed 5’5 in this TFTA story, makes Noland even larger in memory (one magazine article reported that his brother ‘Norland’, who stood 5’11 and played in the band, was often presumed to be a football player, rather than Noland.) Upshot: can say because I remember like it was yesterday – ‘Supergnat’ terrorized opposition special teams like no one that I had ever seen before, just ahead of the clothesline tackles shortening his career (in fact, teammate Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson shortened his own career likely, by way a broken arm he suffered vs Don Maynard of the Jets in that same 1967 exhibition season, while attempting his (in)famous ‘hammer’ neck tackle, which caused him to miss several games, remaining exhibition as well regular season one, before being released prior to the 1968 season.)

    Back to ‘Supergnat’, there may have been others but the only guys circa 1967/earlier that come to mind as ‘Supergnat’ size, short height/minimal weight, were Buddy Young (listed 5’4 175) and Walter ‘Flea’ Roberts (5’9 163). PR stories as teams of the day routinely reported players sizes bigger or sometimes smaller than they actually were – a player’s quickness and/or top end speed too was massaged sometimes.

    Former Chiefs variously come to mind based on conversation with a player or narratives of the day. In addition to Noland Smith, former Chief Jim Tyrer listed 292 most of his career, but one report had him much as 316 at one point. Buck Buchanan listed anywhere 287-300, Ed Lothamer 245 college, 270 with KC & much as 297 later, unofficially. Otis Taylor told me he played at 227 though his listed weight ranged 211-220. Course Ernie Ladd – pictured arm on Noland Smith’s shoulder pad in a famous ‘David & Goliath’ 1967 photo – was at least 6’9 and 300+ (pick a number between 300-350.) I do know that, in an early 1960’s All Star game photo with Jim Tyrer, Ernie made Jim look ‘small’.

    Speeds varied by report too: was ‘Supergnat’ actually a 4.1 40 yard guy as reported in one publication, or ‘only’ 4.3? Blink an eye and who could tell the difference, right? Was he a 9.4 100 guy, or, as Lance Alworth of the Chargers, did that depend on source and which way the wind was blowing? (I read Alworth was anywhere from 9.3 – 9.6 in the 100). Otis Taylor told me he ran a 4.5 40 despite he & Emmitt Thomas both being listed as 4.3 guys, in one case.

    Taylor, Thomas, Frank Pitts, Goldie Sellers & Noland Smith would’ve made a great relay team, and suffice to say, all these guys were fast enough, by any measure (add Warren Wells, Grundy Harris, Warren McVea, Jimmy Hines Clyde Glossen & other guys who played or tried out for the Chiefs once upon a time, and today’s flavor of the moment Tyreek Hill has nothing on them.)

    Final thoughts: the 86 yard punt return td the first time ‘Supergnat’ ever touched the ball in pro football ranks up there with hitting a home run in your first ever at bat, and I was fortunate enough to see it, a then yearly exhibition game in KC called ‘The Grocery Bowl’. Also: that 106 yard kickoff return td vs DEN final regular season game of 1967 ‘should’ have been credited as a 107 yarder – at minimum. A close look at the film suggests it was closer to 107 1/2 yards, definitely more than 106… ‘Supergnat’ was robbed.

    Alas, 1967 was a year Kansas City fans were robbed: the Chiefs could’ve/should’ve gone to another Superbowl, all due respect to OAK and SD, both of who had memorable seasons themselves… Chiefs more so beat themselves that year. Still, 1967 was a year several great players (Stenerud, Lanier, Lynch & Kearney) arrived in KC, but none had a bigger impact that year than a meteor named Noland ‘Supergnat’ Smith, still # 1 in this fan’s memory… will never forget him.

  2. jlreif says:

    Great post. Besides Noland Smith, another Hank Stram innovation was 6’10” Morris Stroud. Morris was best known for standing underneath the goal post to leap and block field goals –until that was outlawed.

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