- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2000

PHILADELPHIA Like a mantra, Brian Mitchell keeps repeating that Sunday's game is the Eagles against the Redskins, not Brian Mitchell against the Redskins. But his delight in talking about being in Philadelphia, and his distaste for his old organization say otherwise.

"I knew last year that I wasn't going to be back because I saw the writing on the wall," said Mitchell, who was waived by the Redskins in June. "People don't write on the wall unless they're going to follow through. You know what they were saying [about him having lost a step]. That book, 'Who Moved My Cheese?' taught me to [accept] a situation and move on. Don't dwell on the old. Find the new. That's what I've done. I'm having fun."

He's certainly made it more fun to be on the long-dreadful Philadelphia special teams. Mitchell is third in the NFC in kickoff return average (30.8 yards) and fourth in punt return average (12.5).

Two weeks ago at New Orleans, the Louisiana native returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown and had a kickoff score called back because of a penalty. Last week on national television against Atlanta, Mitchell returned a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown and scored on an 85-yard run en route to equaling his career-high of 290 total yards. And now, after those two Player of the Week performances, comes his first crack against the Redskins and likely his first start since 1997 because of Pro Bowl halfback Duce Staley's sprained foot.

"Somebody bigger than me wrote this script and that script has to be followed," Mitchell said. "I'm just a vehicle for whatever has been planned. I have to believe God took over this one. Never in a million years would you think things would pan out like this."

As in a showdown for the NFC East lead between the haughty defending champion Redskins (3-2) and the upstart Eagles (3-2), who finished in the division basement last year.

As in Mitchell who has returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns the past two games needing one more score to break a tie with the retired Eric Metcalf for the NFL career record of 11. As in Mitchell already tops in combined return yardage needing just 96 punt-return yards to supplant the retired Dave Meggett in that category. Mitchell, who has 696 total yards this season, needs 708 to move into third place in that category, behind the late Walter Payton and Jerry Rice.

"I'll deal with all the numbers when I retire in 2006," the smiling 32-year-old Mitchell said, half tongue in cheek. "I'm happy just to get my name mentioned in the same breath with a lot of those guys. My production speaks for itself."

But not to the Redskins. Mitchell's punt and kickoff return averages last season were his lowest since 1993. He caught his fewest passes since 1994 as new fullback Larry Centers grabbed most of the third-down duty. With Mitchell due to make $1.3 million in base salary and superstar punt returner Deion Sanders due to be cut by Dallas, Washington gave Mitchell its senior offensive player the boot. A week later, he signed a two-year, $1.6 million deal with Philadelphia.

"In this business, you're not going to be somewhere forever," said Mitchell, who spends most Tuesdays commuting to see his family in Centreville. "They're going to get rid of you eventually and you have to move on. You just hope that they're straightforward with you, that they handle it correctly. It wasn't handled correctly and I was upset about that. I don't think [Redskins coach] Norv Turner had anything to do with it. [Owner] Dan Snyder and [player personnel director] Vinny Cerrato are dictating to him. They say one of the reasons I was released was because I was a bad influence. That's a joke.

"You can allow it to become a personal vendetta, but I'm not allowing it to. Getting overly anxious doesn't do anything but make you make mistakes. I never had a game against old buddies before, but old buddies understand that when I step on the field, we're not buddies. I want my buddies to do well, but do I want the whole [Redskins] team to do well? No. When [Eagles coach] Andy Reid calls a play and it's my turn to touch the ball, I'm going to do the same thing I always do, try to make a big play. If it's a right run, I'm not going to go left just to make something happen. I'm going to follow the game plan. "

But Mitchell's teammates know it's not just any game for him.

"Brian has the mentality of just going out and trying to make a big play," said Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. "[But] I'm pretty sure he's going to try to open up some eyes on their side of the field, make them realize that they shouldn't have let him go."

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