You could easily walk past Chad Hall on the street and never guess at his occupation: NFL player. As the photo he Tweeted while flying to the NFC Championship game shows, Hall looks more like a snowboarder or the young guy working at your local sporting goods store.
He's only 5'7", the shortest guy on the 49ers roster. He weighs 187 pounds, so he's pretty solid but gives up plenty of poundage to most everyone else on the field. There's a tendency to assume a guy that size must be really fast, but not so much; Hall's 4.6 40-yard-dash time is nothing special.
So he's not big and he's not fast, but what Chad Hall is is shifty--and tenacious as hell. The Atlanta native was a standout high school quarterback who was ignored by big-time college recruiters. He arrived at the Air Force Academy in 2004 and spent that fall quarterbacking the JV team (how quaint is that...a JV team!) before starting his varsity career in '05. He ran for 344 yards that year, 784 in '06, and then went wild in 2007.
In his senior season at Air Force, Chad Hall ran for 1449 yards and piled up another 784 receiving yards, becoming the only college player in the country to lead his team in both rushing and receiving. He also returned punts and kickoffs for the Falcons. The undersized Air Force squad went 9-4, capping its season with a 42-36 loss to Cal in the Armed Forces Bowl. That Cal team was loaded: future NFL players included DeSean Jackson, Jahvid Best, Justin Forsett, LaVelle Hawkins, Alex Mack, Thomas DeCoud, Syd'Quan Thompson and Tyson Alualu. They all went away impressed by the stubby Air Force running back.
Of course, those Cal players were pretty sure they'd have a shot at NFL riches. Chad Hall? He was an Air Force 2nd lieutenant headed for duty at a base in Utah.
Fast-forward a couple of years. Hall managed to get a tryout with the Philadelphia Eagles. It led to a contract and--while he dressed in the same locker room as DeSean Jackson--he led a very different life. Hall existed on the margins of the NFL, a too-small, too-slow former quarterback and running back trying to make it as a wide receiver. There were a few catches, a couple of touchdowns, and a lot of time on the practice squad.
The 2012 season? Hall was cut by the Eagles at the end of training camp. The 49ers signed him to their practice squad after a rash of wide receiver injuries. He got into the NFC Championship game in his hometown, even had a pass thrown his way (it was deflected). It looks like he'll be active for the Super Bowl.
You just know that Chad Hall is a Jim Harbaugh kind of guy--gritty, tough. His versatility gives offensive coordinator Greg Roman a few new toys--how about an option pass?
However it turns out, the Chad Hall story is a terrific sidebar to the 49ers' Super Bowl run. There's only one glitch: he arrived with the Twitter handle @chadhall16 (he wore #16 with the Eagles).
Uh, Chad...here in the Bay Area, that number is taken.