Bobby Mitchell is best remembered for being the Redskins' first African-American player, though he was one of three that day to play for Washington. The distinction bothered him.
Mitchell wanted to be remembered as simply a great football player. Indeed, he entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and was later named one of the 70 greatest Redskins ever.
But both points are still short. Mitchell was a great man. He died on Sunday at age 84 having lived a worthwhile life.
When his football career ended in 1968, after finishing second in NFL career yards with 14,078, Mitchell showed his true power of inspiring people. He lived it, spoke it and made others do so, too.
Rising from scout under Vince Lombardi to assistant general manager, Mitchell spent more than 40 years in the community at events big and small. To listen to Mitchell was like listening to a preacher, his cadence rising to a crescendo where followers left ready to do better in life. That was his super power.
Maybe Mitchell learned it from the late Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, who was the ultimate one-minute manager long before the term became common. Cooke usually lectured employees briefly before saying he knew they could do better. It really resonated with Mitchell, who often said he'd run through walls for Cooke. To hear "attaboy" from Cooke was a joy to Mitchell, knowing he'd accomplished another goal.
Perhaps the only time Mitchell showed his annoyance was in the 1980s, when Bobby Beathard was hired over him to be the team's general manager in 1978, and then Charley Casserly gaining the job in 1989. Mitchell was angry, especially when Cooke didn't tell him personally before elevating Casserly.
But, I think Cooke viewed Mitchell as too valuable in community outreach than as a GM, despite the latter carrying a bigger title. Nobody was better known among fans than Mitchell. He was a hero in the African-American community in the 1960s when race relations in this country and town boiled over into rioting. Mitchell was a constant on the banquet and fundraising circuits where everyone hushed to hear his message.
In the quiet corners of Redskins Park, you'd also see Mitchell mentoring young players like Michael Westbrook who were frustrated with coaches and needed counseling. They might not have always known they needed Mitchell's advice, but I bet today they'd admit it helped.
To know Mitchell was to respect him for his endless hard work and the racial hatred he endured.
"The Hall of Fame will forever keep his legacy alive to serve as inspiration to future generations," said Hall Of Fame president David Baker.
Amen to that.