- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2003

He arrived in Washington in 1962 with trepidation as the first black player in Redskins history. He retires today after 41 years with the organization as a much-loved Hall of Famer. And when Bobby Mitchell walks out the front door of Redskin Park this evening, he'll take much more with him than the awards and framed photos from his office walls.
The 67-year-old Mitchell had been the only link to the days of George Preston Marshall and Vince Lombardi. Special assistant for football operations Bubba Tyer becomes the only Redskins employee whose tenure with the franchise predates Redskin Park's move to Ashburn in 1992.
"Bobby handled all his positions from scout to assistant GM with a touch of class," Tyer said. "He got lots of thankless jobs done and he did them well. I admire him for that."
Lombardi asked Mitchell to join the front office upon his retirement in 1969. He rose through the ranks from scout to director of pro scouting to assistant general manager. Later, he helped late Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke lobby officials in the District and Maryland about sites for a new stadium before Cooke finally settled on Landover in 1995.
Mitchell, who'll focus now on his annual golf tournament that has raised more than $2million for leukemia research, has been the Redskins' face in the community for decades. Among the groups with whom he has worked are the Boys and Girls Clubs, the Urban League, the NAACP, the Board of Trade, the United Negro College Fund and the White House Task Force on Drugs. Mitchell was honored in 1998 by the NFL Alumni Association with the Order of the Leather Helmet for service to football and a field in Anacostia was named for him in 2000.
But it was his wizardry as a receiver and a halfback that made him unforgettable.
"Bobby could take a pitch to the short side of the field and take that sucker 60, 70 yards," said Brig Owens, a Redskins safety from 1966 to 1977.
When he suddenly retired because of aching hamstrings in 1969, Mitchell was second only to Jim Brown in total yards, third in catches behind Raymond Berry and Lionel Taylor and fifth with 91 touchdowns. No wonder Mitchell was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1983.
Under pressure from the Kennedy Administration to end the NFL's last color bar, Marshall traded the first pick in the 1962 draft to Cleveland for Mitchell, who was second banana to Browns superstar Jim Brown. Mitchell set then-Redskins records with 72 catches, 1,384 yards and 12 touchdowns in his Washington debut and was voted to the first of three straight Pro Bowls despite hostility from whites and being a torch-carrier for blacks.
"If I focused only on my first two or three years here, I would have to be crazy to like anybody in town," Mitchell recalled. "I wasn't accepted by a lot of the white guys on the team. The fans would yell, 'Run nigger, run.' I was spat on in Duke Zeibert's [restaurant]. I wanted to punch someone. [But] I found out quickly that how I handled myself made a world of difference. A lot of bad things happened to me, but as long as the black kids saw me stay within myself and not lash out, they would stay within themselves and not lash out [at the indignities they faced]. I wished I could have played one day without any problems. I went to the stadium with a trunk on my back. It never ended. It just got easier. When you've got to play like that and still make All-Pro, I'm proud of that."
Mitchell was always proud, but he never complained publicly when Cooke bypassed him and gave fellow assistant GM Charley Casserly the top job when GM Bobby Beathard resigned in 1989. And although he was hurt when the Redskins gave his No.49 which hadn't been worn since his retirement to rookie free agent tight end Leonard Stephens last year, Mitchell never went public with his dismay. He understood that it was an act of ignorance, not malice. With the Redskins having employed a black interim head coach (Terry Robiskie) in 2000 and with most of the players also black, the new generation running the franchise doesn't have a full appreciation for its history and Mitchell's importance in that context.
"Bobby laid a lot of foundation," Owens said. "It took a special person to come here. Every time they put Bobby in a position to fail, he succeeded, not just in a small way, but in a major way."

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