|Gerald Small (1956-2008)|
The 1982 National Football League season was shortened due to a 57-day players’ strike. When the strike ended in November, Gerald Small of the Miami Dolphins emerged as one of the league’s top cornerbacks. The one-time San Jose State star came up with a pair of interceptions and helped the Dolphins to the second best record in the American Conference.
Then, Mr. Small did all he could to get Miami back to the Super Bowl for the first time since its perfect 1972 season. He had an interception in playoff wins over New England, San Diego and the New York Jets as the Dolphins advanced to Super Bowl XVII in Pasadena to face the Washington Redskins. Miami intercepted two Joe Theismann passes that day, but neither was by Mr. Small as Washington, behind a powerful second-half running attack, pulled away for a 27-17 victory.
In seven seasons, six with Miami (1978-83) and one with Atlanta (1984), Mr. Small came up with 24 regular-season interceptions and the three in the 1982 playoffs. He manned a cornerback position in the Dolphins’ defense when the unit was known as the ‘Killer Bees.’
Mr. Small died on September 27 in Sacramento, Calif., at age 52.
Born in Washington, North Carolina, he made his way to San Jose State from Desert High School near Edwards Air Force Base in central California. He was a star in track and field, basketball and football. According to his college roommate and teammate, linebacker James Hawkins, basketball was his first love in sports.
“Gerald was recruited to the University of North Carolina for basketball, but (San Jose State Coach) Darryl Rogers sold him on football,” Hawkins remembered about the 6-foot all-around athlete. “He loved Louie Wright, Kim Bokamper and Carl Ekern. He was good at football, not the physical-type. He did for the camaraderie.
“The thing I remember most were the road trips. He and I would sit in the front of the bus and sing the tunes of the Dramatics and the O’Jays.”
Mr. Small was a three-time, first-team All-Pacific Coast Athletic Association defensive back, a two-time honorable mention All-America, and an East-West Shrine game and Senior Bowl participant during his San Jose State career that spanned the 1974 through 1977 seasons. The Spartans were conference champions in 1975 and 1976.
“Gerald is an extremely good back-pedaller and does well in zone situations,” said Rogers about Mr. Small in the 1975 team media guide. He had to be effective moving sideways and backwards guarding the likes of Stanford’s James Lofton and California’s Wesley Walker.
According to Hawkins, Mr. Small played much of the 1977 less than 100 percent due to a shoulder problem that probably impacted his status in the 1978 NFL draft. Still, he was selected in the fourth round as the 93rd overall pick.
“He wasn’t home when the Dolphins called,” said Hawkins, who also was the recipient of Mr. Small’s weekly Sunday pancake feed. “He got more joy from cooking for us than we did eating.”
After his football career ended, Mr. Small worked in the real estate industry and mortgage business in Sacramento. Two daughters, Gideon Small and Micaela Small, both from Illinois, survive Mr. Small.
Funeral services were held Saturday, October 4, in Sacramento.