Brian Mitchell is widely considered one of the greatest return specialists in the history of the NFL.
At the time of his retirement, the native of Plaquemine, Louisiana held the all time NFL record for special teams touchdowns with 13. He trails only Jerry Rice on the NFL’s all-time all-purpose yards list, totaling over 23,000 yards during his career.
A fifth round pick out of Southwestern Louisiana, Mitchell played for Washington from 1990-1999, then Philadelphia from 2000-2002 before finishing his career the following season with the New York Giants.
His rookie card is in the 1990 Pro Set issue and he was also in the ’91 Pinnacle set.
Now 51, he works in broadcasting in the D.C. area. I caught up with him to chat about his massive man cave, collecting Muhammad Ali items and taking pride in signing autographs.
TR: As a high level athlete you have surely signed your name countless times over the years for fans. When were you asked for your autograph for the first time?
Brian Mitchell– Oh, man. I was in the ninth grade. I was the starting quarterback for my varsity football team. We played a game and I happened to have a really good game. Little kids were asking for my autograph. At that point I felt like I must be a star but I knew I had a lot of work to do. It was fun. It was interesting. I had seen people ask for autographs and I never thought I would be someone people were asking but they asked me early.
You’ve signed for Panini as recently as a few years ago. You are still signing cards to this day. How much pride do you take in signing for fans and realizing there is a level of demand for you signature today?
I take a lot of pride in it. It’s a blessing. I left football in 2003. Its 2020. I have friends that wonder why I take so much time with people. In Louisiana, we talk to people when people make eye contact, we will definitely talk. That’s why I never had a problem with people coming up to me. Now, today, if people are asking I must still be on people’s minds. If they are still asking I am still signing.
As a young athlete who inspired you? Whose autograph would you have asked for back in the day?
Muhammad Ali inspired me. I was always a fan of him. People say I am kind of brash. I loved his brashness. But he was always prepared. He was so charismatic. Also, my brother Daryl Mitchell was the kind of guy I followed. He was very good in sports and he was very good in school. When I got a little bit older I really gravitated to Michael Jordan. Every time he was on camera he was in a suit. A lot of people don’t approach it like that. People see it as just sports but it is a business as well. It’s your job. I loved the way he presented himself.
How did it feel to see yourself on a football card for the first time 30 years ago?
I was shocked. I was ecstatic. Then I started looking for them (the cards). I tried to see if I could get more than one or if other people actually wanted them. I have a neighbor who would frame all types of things. I would get all the cards I could and she would put them in a frame by year. I have a ton of that stuff on my walls. I have jerseys, whole uniforms, pictures and things like that. I keep a lot of my own stuff but there are people who I admire and I wanted to get something of them and I have a lot of really good items.
What are some of your prized possessions in your memorabilia collection?
I have Muhammad Ali stuff. I have an autographed Steve McNair jersey. I have an autographed Tony Dorsett jersey. As a young man, I was a big fan of Tony Dorsett. I have a Jerry Rice autographed jersey. I have a Charlie Taylor piece. I was at an auction and people must not have known who he was. He is a Hall of Famer. It’s 15-20 cards that are all signed. And I got it for $250.
I got a lot of Tiger Woods stuff. Another thing my neighbor would do was she had the ability to get printing plates from the newspaper. I have some special printing plates of Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan. I have some of Kevin Garnett’s shoes. I can put both of my feet in each those shoes! I have stuff from Lisa Leslie and Dawn Staley. I don’t get something everywhere I go but when I see something special I try to grab on to it.
I assume you have an impressive man cave. Is that a fair statement?
It is the whole basement, basically. I’m always out and about. I am outgoing. When I was younger and playing I would just come home at sit down. I rarely came downstairs. I guess it’s more for when people come over. It’s also for my kids, who are between the ages of 17 and 31, to look at and say ‘My dad did a little bit.’ They will also see the people that motivated me as well.
What item is on top of the want list or wish list?
Anything significant from Muhammad Ali. I have always felt like he was my alter ego. Anything from him would be at the top of the list. I admired him so much as an athlete and a human being. He did so much beyond being an athlete. Everything I post on social media is about motivation. When I see a guy who was a boxer who was able to accomplish and do so much off the field, it pushes me. People say I do so much. I’m not doing enough. I have some more I can do. That’s the way I will look at it. Until the day I die, I hope I can help and motivate somebody.
How much of your own unique items are in your man cave?
When you walk down the stairs to the basement there is a big sitting area and that is where my stuff is. Behind the bar, I have a lot of the other players stuff. I also have stuff in my weight room. I took the time to say “If I did all of this stuff let me put it up here. This is my stuff.” I have other stuff in other rooms in the basement.
You have to set the tone right away, right?
You might see some other stuff but this here is my house!
How involved are you in the sports card market today?
I go to a lot of card shows. I have been to card shows with people from every sport as well as actors and pro wrestlers. You see some of the same people, no matter what city you are in, you see the same people.
My co-host on my radio show is a big time collector. He has a little bit of everything. He likes to get the game worn stuff. Scott could go a month and wear something new every day. He is so into it. He teaches me a lot. Today, you know exactly if something was truly game worn or not. When I was in Philadelphia, I had a deal with a guy where I would give him my jerseys after the game. I would wear the jersey and give it to him. I would give him my shoes, my gloves and my towel. What some other people would do would be buy stuff at the beginning of the year, sign it up and try to do it that way. They always caught them. This is a serious business. This is big money. If you get something you want to make sure it is absolutely 100% real. People want that stuff.
I have twenty some balls that I scored with. They would write it up and paint the panel and put the stats on it.
I have a gold ball I received from the Redskins when I went into the Ring of Honor. When I broke the return yardage record the Eagles gave me a silver, metallic ball. But my prized possession is a special item. My wife had a guy come up from Florida and made a five foot by six foot, half an inch thick glass that he blew out. He took one of my cards and actually made the glass into a huge card. When you hit the lights it clicks on and lights up. It’s sweet.