- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 16, 2005

For four seasons after being cut by the Washington Redskins, Brian Mitchell kept bashing up the gut of opposing coverage units and running his mouth. Cast aside by the Redskins, he was determined to be the same ornery overachiever elsewhere.

“It didn’t make a difference what uniform I put on,” Mitchell said. “I was always going to be the same person, and that’s a person who goes out and gives his all.”

But if it didn’t matter to Mitchell whose uniform he wore from 2000 to 2003, he cared deeply about which jersey he would hold at his formal retirement. Thus he put aside years of bad blood, called Redskins owner Dan Snyder last fall and made arrangements to sign a one-day contract with Washington so he could retire in the town he still calls home.

That day came yesterday, and at Redskin Park the club held a respectful tribute to one of history’s greatest return men.

“When I decided that this is what I wanted to do and it was over for me, you put pride aside,” Mitchell explained at his farewell press conference. He later added that “it feels great” to retire as a Redskin.

A standout quarterback at Southwestern Louisiana and a 1990 fifth-round draft pick, Mitchell overcame his small-college background and diminutive frame (5-foot-11, 225 pounds) to set 13 NFL records over 14 seasons.

Coach Joe Gibbs, who helped draft Mitchell and coached him from 1990 to 1992, fondly reflected on Mitchell’s career before presenting him a No. 30 jersey. Among Gibbs’ stories: how Mitchell filled in behind center in the infamous “Body Bag Game” and how he used to mock the Redskins’ starting defense while playing on the scout team in practice.

“He actually volunteered to run the dummy offense,” Gibbs said with a laugh. “He’s calling guys names and everything. And I’m thinking, “They are going to kill him.’ The bottom line on that is, I can honestly say this is one of the toughest guys I’ve been around.”

That was Mitchell’s legacy when he was unceremoniously dumped in 2000 after Washington, then led by Snyder and scouting chief Vinny Cerrato in personnel, deemed the aging and cantankerous return man risky in the locker room and, in the wake of Deion Sanders’ signing, expendable on special teams.

By that point Mitchell had accumulated a team-record 13,062 combined return yards, mostly right up the middle of the field. His fearless style ultimately earned him begrudging respect around the league, an assortment of records (including an NFL mark of 19,013 combined return yards) and a spot among the 70 Greatest Redskins in 2002.

Next up might be a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which has yet to induct a position player primarily for special-teams acumen.

“I don’t what the [Hall”s] criteria is, but I always tell young guys when they come in, “Leave the best resume you possibly can,’ ” Mitchell said. “I would say my resume is one of the best.”

Mitchell maintained his Centreville home while playing for the Philadelphia Eagles from 2000 to ‘02 and the New York Giants in 2003. Continued adulation from Redskins fans played a strong role in his decision to retire in Washington. Always an important figure in the community, Mitchell now will serve as “assistant GM” with the D.C. Divas, a club in the National Women’s Football Association.

Among the dozen or so friends and family who attended yesterday’s press conference was Mitchell’s wife, Monica, who dabbed tears from her eyes as Mitchell, a bit nervous, mopped sweat from his shaved head. Snyder didn’t attend but, according to Gibbs, privately told Mitchell “he appreciates what Brian has done for the history of the Redskins.”

In any case, yesterday wasn’t about the sniping that followed Mitchell’s release. It was about Mitchell rising above years of bitterness and finally coming back to the organization where he did so much good.

“It was critical for him to make this thing happen,” said Redskins running backs coach Ernest Byner, who was Mitchell’s teammate and mentor in the early 1990s. “It speaks to the man. It speaks to his abilities to use the brain and to understand what it really means to be a Redskin, to be in this family. He wanted to make this happen.”

Notes ” Gibbs refused to characterize left tackle Chris Samuels’ contract as a linchpin for the Redskins’ plans in free agency. Extending Samuels’ deal would free a considerable amount of spending room, but there are increasing signals that Washington will take a cautious route in the market.

“We’ve got a plan there,” Gibbs said. “There’s a lot involved with it. Certainly his deal would sure help with us having some flexibility, for sure, because he’s a sizable contract.” …

Gibbs also said he hasn’t “given up” on re-signing cornerback Fred Smoot before free agency opens March 2. However, given Smoot’s expectations, the four-year pro is expected at least to test the market. Said Gibbs: “I’m hoping that as we get a little closer, some of these things start to fall [into place].”

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