- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2005

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - During these mass interview sessions at the Super Bowl, it’s all about location, location, location for a player.

If you do your Q and A-ing on the hotel’s main stage, you’re a major star — usually the quarterback. If you’re assigned to a podium, complete with microphone, you’re a Pro Bowler/key starter/novelty act (choose one). Separate tables in the ballroom go to the next most important personages, and those lowest in the caste system are asked to share space.

Such as Freddie Mitchell, the Incredible Shrinking Eagle.

You might say Freddie — the mouthiest Mitchell since Martha — has been shunted aside at this year’s Roman Numeral Game. Unplugged. Packed off to Elba. After his impolitic remarks last week about the Patriots’ secondary, the Eagles have decided their DB-baiting receiver should be seen and not heard.

And so he was splitting a table yesterday with fellow wideout Billy McMullen, the UVa grad who’s contributed all of three receptions to the cause this season. Is that any way to treat a guy who scored two touchdowns against the Vikings in the playoffs?

Mitchell was convinced members of the team’s PR staff were conspiring against him, damage controllers that they are. But the principal culprit, of course, was his own big mouth.

In the giddy aftermath of the Eagles’ NFC Championship game victory over the Falcons, Freddie just couldn’t help himself when ESPN’s Dan Patrick asked him to name the Patriots’ cornerbacks. Rather than say, “Asante Samuel and Randall Gay, both of whom have been playing out of their minds,” he pretended to be stumped — like Ken Jennings in his last appearance on “Jeopardy!”

“Wow!” he said. “Can I say their numbers? I know their numbers. Twenty-two, 25, 37 — which is [Rodney] Harrison, and I got something for you, Harrison, when I meet you …”

Whoops.

Mitchell claims it was all a misunderstanding, that folks “don’t get my smart-aleck sense of humor. I was being facetious, and they just took it the wrong way.” But regardless of his intentions, he still broke the First Commandment of Super Bowl Week, which is: Thou shalt not give the opposition any bulletin board material.

Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, a cornerback for the Chiefs, made the same mistake at the very first Super Bowl, promising to unload on Packers wideouts Boyd Dowler and Carroll Dale with his feared forearm (the aforementioned “Hammer”). Williamson was last seen being carried off the field after a Green Bay running back knocked him cuckoo. Final score: Pack 35, Kansas City 10.

Then there was Hollywood Henderson, the loquacious linebacker for the Cowboys. Before Super Bowl XII, he questioned the smarts of Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, saying, “He couldn’t spell ‘cat’ if you spotted him the ‘c’ and the ‘a.’” Bradshaw might not have been able to spell but he did know how to throw for 318 yards and four touchdowns. (And while Pittsburgh was beating Dallas, 35-31, Hollywood — according to his memoirs — was doing cocaine on the sideline.)

So Mitchell is probably nuts to take a jab at the Patriots, who have only won 31 of their last 33 games and two of the last three Super Bowls. Bill Belichick’s players lead the league in self-motivation as it is, and providing them with additional incentive is, well, ill advised.

The put-down certainly struck a nerve with Harrison, who hastened to point out that Freddie was merely a fringe Eagle, one who wouldn’t have been playing much at all if Terrell Owens hadn’t gotten hurt.

“What was he,” Rodney fired back, “a former first-round pick? And he still hasn’t broken into the starting lineup [four years later]? …”

Interesting, don’t you think? Mitchell pretends not to know the names of the New England corners, but Harrison can tell you what round Freddie was drafted in. These Patriots sure do their homework.

Mitchell remains unfazed, though — and unrepentant. His problem, if he has one, is that “I give a decent interview,” he said. “I tell you what I’m thinking. A lot of guys are like robots.”

Soon an ESPN camera crew came by, and he launched into a rant about former NFLers who become analysts.

“I hate them,” he said. “The further they get away from the game, the easier the game becomes. Why do they belittle the players? If they’d just talk football, they’d get better ratings. When I’m done, I’m going to take a couple of their jobs.”

He was just getting warmed up. “Look,” he said, “the Patriots aren’t going to hit me less hard because I didn’t say something about them,” he said. “This is football. They’re going to hit you whether you say something or not.

“I’m going to get hit [Sunday]. That’s what I pride myself on, getting hit [going] over the middle. I love that. I don’t play in fear.”

Before him on the table were not one but two cell phones. During lapses in the conversation, he would fiddle with them.

“Why two?” he was asked. “One for business, one for pleasure?”

“Nah,” he said, “I’m changing numbers.”

A good idea, no doubt, after the week he’s had.


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