>The Super Gnat – The Kansas City Chiefs’ Noland Smith

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One of the fun things about the American Football League is that it was full of characters.  There was Ernie “Giant Cat” Ladd, who stood 6’9″ and weighed 325 lbs., and was a professional wrestler in the off-season.  Sometimes facing Ladd in the ring was “Chief” Wahoo McDaniel, a Choctaw-Chickasaw Native American, who lined up at linebacker and offensive guard for several teams in the AFL when he wasn’t traveling ont he pro wrestling circuits.  Hezekiah Ezekiel Braxton III lined up at running back for the San Diego Chargers in 1962, and big Ben Davidson, with his Dick Dastardly-inspired handlebar mustache, hit everything that moved (officials and coaches included) from his spot on the Oakland Raiders defensive line.  The Kansas City Chiefs had a tiny, little character of their own that they called the Super Gnat.
In a sport played by giants, Noland Smith was a 5′ 6-1/4″, 154-pound flanker from Tennessee State University.  Unfortunately for Super Gnat, the Chiefs had 6′ 3″ Otis Taylor playing ahead of him at flanker.  But instead of languishing on the sidelines, Smith made a name for himself as a kick and punt returner.  “He may be the most exciting runner in pro football,” commented the Chiefs’ head coach, Hank Stram in a 1968 issue of Pro Football Digest.
Noland Smith’s professional football career lasted only three seasons, during which he caught only two passes from the flanker position, but he excelled running back punts and kick offs.  In his rookie season of 1967, Smith led the AFL with 41 kick off returns for 1,148 yards.  Against Denver Super Gnat recorded the AFL’s first 100+ yard kick off return when he scorched the Broncos for a 106-yard return for a touchdown.  In 1968, Smith led the league with a 15.0 yard average on punt returns, and ran one all the way back.
Super Gnat’s star shone brightly, but burned out quickly.  After two full seasons in Kansas City, Smith split the 1969 season between the Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League.  The following season he was out of the game.
Todd Tobias (789 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.



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5 Responses to >The Super Gnat – The Kansas City Chiefs’ Noland Smith

  1. clothing says:

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  2. Noland Smith, Jr. says:

    Great article, Ernie was a great man and it was a very sad day when we lost his presence. Your dead on stating that my Dad only played 3 Season’s but as you also stated, he was a very exciting athlete to watch while he was there. He and I have discussed his choice of a short vice longer career in football, but it would probably be more appropriate to allow him to answer those questions. I’ll pass the link on to him and urge him to post. Thanks again for sharing some information about my hero!

    Noland Smith, Jr.
    STSC(SS) USN Ret.

  3. Springs Bill says:

    Nice article. I well remember Noland Smith from my childhood in Kansas. I thought he would score on every kickoff (hey, I was 7 then). I was pretty big, with 3 older brothers and he was about my size, so it was easy to dream of running past them on the football field like the Super Gnat! I remember the Chiefs came to my hometown and played basketball in the off-season. I think he may have played in the game. I saw one time where he had a football card on the side of a milk carton, I’d love to see a picture of it if anyone could post one.

  4. Noland Smith, Jr. says:

    Todd,
    I’m not sure if you know this but there is a huge KC Alumni the weekend of the 27th, my father will be there with a TON of the “Old Guy’s”. He as asked my Brother and I to join him and if there was ANY moment in time to get a sit down and interview, this would be that moment in time. Please feel free to hit me up and when I get into town (nsmithjr@me.com) that weekend we can connect and get you in with these guys. We will be there from the 27th until the 29th, and I haven’t been in KC for a VERY long time, so I are really looking forward to getting out and have a GREAT Time…..SO, if your interested, just let me know.

    Noland Smith, J.r
    STSC(SS) USN Ret.

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