A few years ago, about 14 to be exact, I decided to pursue every card for the Washington Football Team, nee Washington Redskins. For years I had been collecting the cards of my favorite guys on the team, Sonny, Charley, Monk, Riggins, etc…then being upset when those players moved on to other teams…ie Champ Bailey and LaVar Arrington. I had no desire to save those guys cards since they left on somewhat bad terms. I had their cards, but no idea what to do with them…didn’t want them in new unis, save for a handful of guys. So what do I do with all those cards and how can I organize them in a way that will suffice for me. Being a fan of a team means cheering for the uniform more than the player, well maybe that’s just my opinion but yeah…I cheer for the helmet! The way sports are today, guys just don’t spend their entire career with one team…and that’s cool with me. Being forced to work in a place you may not want to work is completely understandable, regardless of the benefits and money you receive.
Freedom of choice matters…man, this is starting to get political…
Anyways, my loyalty has always been to my favorite team’s first. The Washington Football Team…redskins…
So I decided to just do what made the most sense and collect everything Washington Football related! This simplified everything and became clearer…well, far more complicated but at least I had an end game in mind…that said, the mid – 90’s to today’s checklists are out of control with all damn variations.
So here we are, what do I want to share with ya’ll today?
One of the main reasons for reviving the blog was to be more player focused in my posts. I can pick a player that had an impact with the team, like Champ or LaVar, share the cards I have and blog about it. Maybe even do some research and write a bit of a biography of sorts with cards attached. Maybe share some stories of their playing days if they were around when I was watching. Yeah, that sounds like fun to me. Research my favorite team, my favorite players, my favorite hobby…the trifecta of cis-male goodness!
Deciding who to let be the captain of this maiden voyage of Cardboard Hogs Blographies was tough though. Do I go with my favorite player from my childhood? The guy with the most success? The guy with the greatest hair? The guy with the greatest off the field stories and drunken history stories…no, I will not begin with John Riggins. I’m gonna save him for another day, not sure what the day will be…but it will be appropriate…plus I want to make sure I get it right.
I wanted to start with a player that had impact off as well as on the playing field. Someone that would leave a great impression on the world and humanity, not just sports. They had to be an important person, a respectable person and someone I wouldn’t regret being the first post in this series…like…well, I’m not going to shame anyone. If you’re a fan of this team, I’m sure you can come up with a number of names.
The person to get this ship moving in its new direction is:
Robert Cornelius Mitchell aka Bobby Mitchell, number 49 for the Washington Redskins
Born: June 6, 1935 – Hot Springs, Arkansas
Died: April 5, 2020
Drafted: 1958 NFL Draft, Round 7, Pick 84 by the Cleveland Browns
Years with Redskins: 1962 – 1968
All Pro Seasons: 1962 – 1964
Pro Bowl Season: 1960, 1962 – 1964
Pro Football Hall of Fame Induction: 1983
The year 2020 was a memorable one, not a good memorable one…but memorable nonetheless. We all know that…I’m stating the obvious. We learned a lot about ourselves and others around us as well. We found out what’s important to our family and the families of others we don’t interact with on a daily basis. Our political viewpoints have hopefully evolved and gained more empathy towards others. Hopefully we’ve gained an understanding that we all are dealing with something in our lives, life can be tough and filled with challenged but some have dealt with far greater challenges than us. This year those voices became louder and more powerful than they ever have in my lifetime, and I think it’s tremendous. A great step in the right direction for humanity as a whole.
Bobby Mitchell, The player had a impactful role as a versatile tailback and receiver in the NFL…doing just about everything to help the team get in the end zone. As a leader, he was pivotal in integrating the NFL as he was the first black player to play for the Washington Redskins when he donned the Burgundy and Gold on September 16th 1962. The last team to do so in the NFL. To put some perspective on that date, the first African Americans to play in an NFL game were Fritz Pollard and Bobby Marshall, in 1920. Now, to be clear the population of black athletes in the NFL was minimal, only 9 men took the field between 1920 and 1926. Miniscule numbers draped in ignorant racism and segregationists running the league. By the mid-40’s, the NFL would see an increase in black athletes joining teams, albeit a minor population uptick to the league. Like many throughout the country they were faced with endless forms racism daily, not just in public but also in places where they worked.
Mitchell’s path to Washington wasn’t necessarily a long welcoming route as you would imagine. The racist owner, George Preston Marshall, had refused to integrate and ultimately brought in their first African American player in ‘62. Ten years after the last teams integrated in 1952…that’s a decade of segregation added on to the previous lifetime of racism from George Preston Marshall.
As the story goes, early in 1961 Marshall was pushed to integrate his team…or lose his lease to the newly completed and modern DC Stadium (later named RFK Stadium). So, Marshall did the best he thought he could and draft a player in the upcoming NFL draft. The Redskins had the first pick in the 1962 draft and selected Ernie Davis, the 1961 Heisman Trophy Winner. Ernie not being one to deal with some bullshit refused to play for the racist owner and demanded a trade. He, very happily was sent to the Cleveland Browns where he would be a teammate of fellow Syracuse Alum, Jim Brown. A formidable backfield for the Browns. As part of that trade, Cleveland would send their first round pick that year, Leroy Jackson and Bobby Mitchell to Washington. Making Bobby Mitchell and LeRoy Jackson the first African American players to be on the Washington Redskins and in turn making the team the last NFL team to integrate…again in 1962! Again, ten years after the last NFL team to integrate and 15 years after Jackie joined the Dodgers!
Bobby Mitchell retired in 1968, he trailed only Jim Brown for most all-purpose yards racking up over 14,000 as a receiver, rusher, kick and punt returner. After his retirement, he immediately moved into a front office career as a scout with the team that refused to allow black players to be part of their organization. Now, he was helping draft and develop players to be part of the organization. Quite a turnaround for the franchise. He never made it to the position of GM, which could have been in part to lingering racism or hidden biases from the teams owners. He did end up staying with the teams front office for 34 years and on the field for 7. Forty One years as a Washington Redskin…wow. Any fan of the team knows this is an epic tenure, well it is for any sport really.
Bobby is included in the Washington Football Teams Ring of Honor and his number, 49 was posthumously retired in 2020. He is only the second player with a retired number. Sammy Baugh’s 33 is the other retired number.
Bobby Mitchell died at the age of 84 in April of 2020. The team had planned to add his number to their sleeves for the 2020 season to celebrate his life and his remarkable NFL career, but also his impact on the game. He was a legendary player that did a lot of great civil rights work off the field and was a vital part of the 60’s athlete activist group along with the likes of Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Jim Brown and many other important figures from that era.
A few months later in July, the Washington Redskins succumbed to the changing world and pressure from various civil right groups to drop the racist image and moniker. These were brought to the organization by George Preston Marshall and held on to for over 80 years. The organization now moves forward, for now as the Washington Football Team.
Not sure if there is anything poetic in all of this. The importance of Bobby Mitchell to the organization and his role is breaking down the barriers of racism seem to blend beautifully with the name change. When you see his number being worn on the chest of every player…it just feels right, especially in this time and this moment…It feels like the time has come to heal and move forward. To look at people as individuals doing the best they can to enjoy their time on earth, respecting everyone and having room for others differences. With Washington being the Football Team now, the importance of unity and working together to make something better is indeed poetic, to me at least…Football Team. A name that represents a group of men from all over the country and from different backgrounds, education, families, traditions, ancestry working together to achieve greatness…as one unit…as a team.
I hope you enjoyed the write up here. My intention is to make it enjoyable, something to learn from and hopefully interest you as a reader. I’m planning to do quite a few of these blogographies over the course of the year and beyond and would love to hear some thoughts from you. Thanks for reading!