LANSDOWNE, Va. — There is no debate over whether Bobby Mitchell is one of the greatest to ever suit up for the Washington Redskins. A member of the 70 Greatest Redskins, Mitchell was a triple threat, amassing 7,954 receiving, 2,735 rushing, and 3,389 total return yards over his 11-year career.
The 1983 Hall of Fame inductee has been playing for a different team, however, for the past 22 years.
As an honorary chair member for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the four-time pro bowler sponsors the Annual Bobby Mitchell/AutoTrader.com Hall of Fame Golf Classic held at the Lansdowne Resort, which runs July 13-15 this year.
"The first time I had heard of leukemia was former football player Ernie Davis of Syracuse," Mitchell said. "The doctor said he has leukemia and I was like, 'What's that?' "
While he noted that Davis' case wasn't the sole reason for his involvement with the cause, Mitchell has met several victims of the two diseases during his 22-year run with the event. Over that time, the Golf Classic has raised more than $7 million for cancer research.
Little Julianna inspires all
On Friday, 5-year-old Julianna from Woodbridge was the star of the fundraiser. She's already gone through 16 months of chemotherapy, and she is looking at 16 more. You wouldn't know it by looking at her face — her smile was beaming across the ballroom for the entirety of the introductory luncheon.
"Julianna and I shot a commercial: a PSA," Mitchell said. "Of course, when it came time for Julianna to say her lines, she just read right through it. When it came for my lines — 'uhh.' "
The Hall of Famers, sponsors and members of the media all laughed at Mitchell. They then applauded Julianna. Not just for the commercial, but for her continuous fight.
Her mother, Laurie Nicholson, talked about their struggle together — having to hear her daughter was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at an age where children should be having fun playing outside, and not be in a hospital for hours on end.
"There are all kinds of different things we had to experience," Nicholson said. "But the one thing I can tell you is that no matter what was thrown Julianna's way, through it all, she's always had a smile on her face and hope in her heart that everything will be OK."
After Mitchell said his final words for the afternoon, a majority of the retired athletes in the room parted ways — but Julianna, along with her mom, stayed longer. The cancer fighter, although shy with the microphone, wasn't shy to anyone that approached her. And as per usual, the smile never left her face.
A Hall of Fame effort
Forty-five Hall of Fame athletes will take part in the weekend's event. Six former Redskins — Chris Hanburger, Ken Houston, Sam Huff, Sonny Jurgensen, Charley Taylor and Mitchell — will be in attendance at some point this weekend in Lansdowne.
Several other figures made appearances on Friday, including ESPN 980's Doc Walker, Comcast Sportsnet's Al Koken, and ESPN analyst and co-host of "Pardon the Interruption" Mike Wilbon. All three spoke of their pleasure to be part of the event and of Mitchell in particular.
"Everybody united in this cause; there's nothing like it in this world," Walker said. "That's why I'm always excited about being able to come out and be a part of this."
"This doesn't get done without the man in the middle," said Koken of the five-time All-Pro Mitchell. "But I just don't know if people, particularly people who are of the younger generation, really understand how special this man is."
"Thank you for having me," said an appreciative Wilbon looking directly at Mitchell. "It's been a few years since I've been able to be here. I really do appreciate the invitation."
Each Hall of Famer had their name and a short bio about them read aloud by Wilbon. After each person stood, applause followed. Of course, personalities stuck out. Jurgensen was chewing on a cigar with a giant grin behind it. Taylor was embarrassed of a story that included him being hit in the leg by a line drive ending his baseball career. And there was Mitchell — sitting calmly in the front of the room next to Julianna.
Since it began in 1991, Mitchell's fundraiser has been one of the most successful initiatives to raise money for cancer research for the LLS in the country. With the help of 44 of his friends, Mitchell will, for the last time as chairman, help those like Julianna.
Going out in style
According to Mitchell, this will be the last time he leads this fundraiser. After 22 years, he says he wants somebody to take the reins and run with it like he did.
"It's going to have to be somebody who believes in the effort," he said. "The Leukemia and Lymphoma [Society] people will keep this going though."
After undergoing two operations on his back, Mitchell's rehabilitation has slowed. He walks with a cane and notes that his progress isn't going as fast as he would like.
As for who will take over next year, Mitchell hasn't even thought about it.
"We can't just quickly decide," he said. "I understand why everybody wants to know now, but I want to focus on finishing this year first."
As long as somebody like Mitchell takes over, the initiative is in good hands. As dozens in the audience gave their thoughts on the Redskins Ring of Fame member, Koken perhaps summed up best what Mitchell's legacy entails.
"All the things this man has embodied for his entire career, of course you expect 22 years of excellence, 22 years of greatness, 22 years of giving, and giving, and giving," Koken said. "Again, none of this gets done — without Bobby Mitchell."
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.