The Pro Football Hall of Fame will welcome eight new members next month in Canton, Ohio. Junior Seau, Jerome Bettis, Charles Haley, Tim Brown, Will Shields, Mick Tingelhoff, Ron Wolf and Bill Polian are the next eight men to put on the famous gold jackets and accept their honors. The late Seau passed away in 2012, and is sure to be honored by family, friends and loved ones. All eight of these men are deserving of this accomplishment because of what they brought and contributed to the game of football. I don’t think there could be any arguments made for them not having a bust displayed with their fellow “brothers” in Ohio. But every year the question is who did not make it in?
When presented with this, my first thought was Brian Mitchell.
Brian Mitchell was drafted in the fifth round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins. Mitchell was a quarterback from the University of Southwestern Louisiana, now known as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He became the first player in NCAA history to pass for more than 5,000 yards and rush for more than 3,000 yards. He also rushed for 47 touchdowns, which was another NCAA record.
Mitchell played 14 seasons in the NFL, with the first ten for the Redskins. He quickly introduced himself to the league by taking the opening kickoff of the preseason 92 yards for a touchdown. Mitchell was a return specialist, running back and also used at quarterback when necessary. He was a football player. Period. One that was ready whenever his number was called to make a play. In Mitchell’s second season, the Redskins advanced to and won the Super Bowl. The 1991 Washington Redskins are considered one of the greatest teams of all time and Mitchell had a big hand in that by leading the NFL in punt return yards (600) and punt return touchdowns (2). Mitchell would go on to produce year after year. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1995 and was an All Pro selection in 1991, 1994 and 1995. Known as a tough guy, Mitchell would run by you or through you, he just got the job done.
Mitchell has 23,330 total yards in his career. That’s good for 2nd Place all time, only behind Jerry Rice. He also lead the NFL in total yards four times, only second to Jim Brown’s five. He is the NFL record holder for total kick and punt return yards and third in punt return touchdowns. So what gives? Voters don’t seem to acknowledge players that primarily played special teams. Currently there are only two in the Hall, kicker Jan Stenerud and punter Ray Guy, who was just added last year. I think both voters and fans need to realize that the game is impacted by more than just offensive and defensive plays. By watching football games, you can easily see how many games are decided by three points or fewer and how many games end up being a field position battle. We have all sat through many contests where offenses struggle, maybe due to great defense, and a team needs a spark from somewhere. A game changer is needed, and that was Mitchell.
Ray Guy’s selection last year just may have voters thinking in the right direction. A player like Mitchell should be recognized for the effort he displayed and plays that he made. How many times was a kick returned to the other side of the field that made easy work for the offense? How many punts were returned for good yardage that allowed a short scoring drive? Some were returned all the way, allowing no work to be done at all. Mitchell never returned a kick in college, but he knew what to do with one in the NFL. He made plenty of big plays during his career, it’s time to see him celebrate in Canton.
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