[Editor's note: As the author of this piece I want it to stand alone, with the merits of Brian Mitchell's numbers and the words of NFL coaches to clearly make the case that he belongs in the Hall of Fame. It's obvious, frankly. But it would be silly and irresponsible to not point out my relationship with B-Mitch. We work together and have for years. He's a good friend. I know his wife and children. He knows my wife and children. When my four-year old daughter sees the two of us on television, she usually asks, 'Is Daddy fighting with Mr. B. Mitch again?' I would stand up for Mitchell in any arena, but in this, I'm doing nobody's bidding. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. It's plain as day.]
The NFL nominated Redskins legend Brian Mitchell for one of the kick returner spots on their Top 100 list, and while that's an incredible honor, it only underscores the absurdity that Mitchell's not already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He ranks No. 2 all-time for all-purpose yards in the NFL, behind only Jerry Rice, and holds the NFL records for most total return yardage in the regular season, and more importantly, in the playoffs. He played for 14 seasons, an impressive feat on its own, and ranks 2nd in NFL history with 13 combined kick and punt return touchdowns.
The truth here isn't surprise that Mitchell was nominated for the Top 100 list, it's outrage that Mitchell doesn't already have a bronze bust in the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
B-Mitch has had brushes with Canton before, a nominee and finalist for the Hall of Fame, but has never generated the requisite votes to wear a gold jacket.
Mitchell won a Super Bowl and spent the bulk of his career with the Redskins, but he also played with the Eagles and Giants. Of his 23,330 all-purpose yards, nearly 17,000 of them came wearing the Burgundy and Gold. Some think that might be a detriment to his case, as former Redskins wide receiver Art Monk narrowly got into Canton and other prominent former Washington players like Joe Jacoby and Gary Clark can't break through to the Hall. Special teams players have a tough road into the Hall of Fame regardless of bias, real or perceived, and that's never been more evident than Mitchell's case.
Perhaps that will change soon.
Peter King, arguably the most important media voice in the NFL and a long-standing Hall of Fame voter, recently tweeted that that he "feels strongly" Mitchell deserves to have his case heard for a gold jacket. For many years, King protested the Hall of Fame candidacy of Monk, and for many years, Monk did not make the Hall of Fame. Somewhere along the way, King changed his mind, and in 2008, Monk got his gold jacket.
2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the NFL, and to celebrate the league is naming their Top 100 players of all-time.
More than 20 players have already made the list, culled from a list of dozens of prospects per position. Many household names like Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, Lawrence Taylor and Reggie White made the roster already with plenty more to come. All are in the Hall of Fame, and almost all of the finalists named so far are in the Hall of Fame too.
For special teams, the NFL has allotted six spots; two for kickers, two for punters and two for returners. There are four nominees for each position. Of the four kickers, three are already in the Hall of Fame. Two of the four punters have bronze busts in Canton. None of the returners have a spot though.
Mitchell is nominated along with Devin Hester, Mel Gray and Billy "White Shoes" Johnson. Mitchell has better career numbers than Gray and Johnson, and not by a close margin, though Hester bested Mitchell in touchdown returns.
Hester should be a certain Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible for voting in 2021. He's the best return of all-time. That's not the point.
The point is that Mitchell, with his numbers, should already be in the Hall of Fame. And by including him as a finalist for the league's Top 100 list of all-time, the NFL is pointing out the obvious.
'He altered situational football'
In some ways, it makes sense that special teamers, and returners in particular, don't have any spots in the Hall of Fame. For decades, being a returner was not a specialized position, and plenty of running backs and wide receivers handled punt and kick returns.
Ben Kotwica has coached special teams in the NFL since 2013, first for the Jets, then for the Redskins, and currently for the Falcons. Kotwica explained that for most of modern football, punters and kickers just booted the ball as far they could. It was elite returners, players like Mitchell, that forced punters and kickers to change their approach.
"It's guys like that who altered the way the ball gets delivered in the punt and kick game," Kotwica said.
Kotwica said that as Mitchell flourished in the 1990s, questions about when to punt, and who to punt to, became more important. That dramatically influenced the increase in directional kicking in both in the punt and kick game that is so prevalent now.
"The question became, 'Do we want to punt to this guy?'' Kotwica said. "He altered situational football."
'A household name'
B-Mitch is a common name in and around Washington, D.C. He hosts a radio show, does plenty of TV work and rarely holds back on his opinions. But people listen to Mitchell now because of the name he created on the football field.
"He’s a household name," Redskins special teams coach Nate Kaczor said.
Kaczor is in his first year coaching the Redskins special teams, but prior to Washington, held the same title in Tampa and Tennessee. That doesn't matter for his assessment of Mitchell, however, as he transcended just the D.C. market.
"The age of social media and exposure, it wasn’t the same back then. In order to become a household name then, you had to be so good," Kaczor said of Mitchell. "He was a legitimate household name as a player and that was hard to do."
Friday night the NFL will reveal what special teamers make the Top 100 list. Looking at the numbers, Hester should certainly make the list followed by Mitchell. The numbers very clearly support those two candidates, and Hester seems like a complete lock.
If Mitchell makes the Top 100, then it would seem a formality for him to soon be voted into the Hall of Fame. But for many years now, it would seem a formality that his resume would already have landed in Canton.
There are no sure things. Well, except Mitchell's spot in the NFL record books. That wasn't voted on, that was earned.
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