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One day after the Redskins got spanked by Dallas, Brian Mitchell took a hit harder than any he’d taken in the game. From a fan.
The guy held on the phone for an hour, just so he could tell the biggest mouth on the worst team in football: “Brian…You suck! You eat ass!”
Such is life for the host of The Brian Mitchell Show, broadcast each Monday night on WTEM-980. The sports radio station’s defensive schemerelying on call screeners and tape-delay technologyis less effective at blocking over-the-airwaves assaults on Mitchell than Skins return teams have been at blocking for him on punts and kickoffs. Mitchell has always bragged about how much trash he can talk. But Skins fans, who are becoming hip to the nuances of the grieving process, have gone from being in denial about the death of their beloved football team to being darn angry about it. And Mitchell has become a favorite target for their abuse. So far, he’s proved no match for his audience. Following the blind-side bash referenced above, Mitchell offered up several seconds of stunned silence before challenging his tele-taunter to a face-to-face encounter. As cocky and tough as Mitchell is on the field, this challenge didn’t seem particularly heartfelt.
It was as if nobody had ever told him he eats ass.
But by the end of the season, if things don’t change, somebody may well tell Mitchell that again. And he’ll probably do so on The Brian Mitchell Show. The weekly program is now the closest thing to The Magic Hour on local radio. As much as you know you shouldn’t be listening, it’s such a sublimely awful experience that you can’t take your ears off it. Like those of the Magic Johnson debacle, the wheels clearly have come off Mitchell’s vehicle. Designed as a pep rally, it’s devolved to the point where essentially every caller insults Mitchell and/or his team until either a shouting match ensues or a producer finally hits the kill switch. Rare is the week when the host doesn’t invite an abusive caller or two to come down to the Shark Club, a tarted-up pool hall in a Centreville strip mall that serves as the show’s headquarters, to settle the matter in person. He knows they won’t show. Nobody shows up for the program anymore.
And there’s no good reason for The Brian Mitchell Show to go on anymore, save contractual obligations. Teams that are 0-6, let alone one so teeming with underachieving punks and coached by the dumbest genius in football history, don’t have well-attended pep rallies. It’s grown more brutal by the week, but Mitchell says he’s not going anywhere.
“0-6 or 0-16, you know where you can find me,” he says.
It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for him. Almost.
Now 30, the nine-year veteran is but one of three players remaining from Joe Gibbs’ tenure. (James Jenkins and Darrell Green are the others.) Back then, things were so rosy for Redskins players that pretty much anybody who wore burgundy and gold could get an eponymous broadcast. How high was the demand? Well, Pete Wysocki had a chat show.
Mitchell took over the WTEM talk show when malcontent safety James Washington was cut two years ago. By then, the franchise’s downward spiral was well under way, but he nevertheless seemed more deserving of a hosting position than, well, Wysocki ever did.
Mitchell holds virtually every Redskins record for punt and kickoff returns, and ranks in the top 10 in NFL history in most of those career categories. On a whole lot of sorry Sundays since Norv Turner took over in 1994, Mitchell seemed like the only Redskin who clearly cared. When Charley Casserly gave him a five-year deal worth $8.4 million after last season, no Redskins fan could begrudge him even one buck.
Not a whole lot has gone right for Mitchell’s club since that signing. The symbiosis between the Skins and the D.C. media is hardly a secret, but the catastrophes of the 1998 season have strained a lot of relationships. Some ties have been broken, although WTEM’s loyalty to Mitchell seems unwavering.
That’s not necessarily good news for Al Koken. Koken, a WTEM morning host and a utility man on the local sports-media scene forever, somehow got saddled with a gig on the The Brian Mitchell Show. Koken is supposed to play sidekick, but his role at this stage seems more that of protector. To Koken, the best defense is a good offense, so instead of just taking calls, he kills time the best way he knows: by talking. And talking. And talking.
Here’s the opening “question” he posed to Mitchell for the post-Eagles show: “I think that people can live with roughness penalties, late hits on quarterbacks. Things like that. Even holding to a certain degree if you’re trying to protect your quarterback or something like that, trying to make a big play. But I just can’t imagine…A couple weeks ago it was lining up in the wrong formation. Five different illegal procedure penalties. It’s
those are the things that strike me. You talk about the concentration. How do you overcome that? What do you do, you haven’t gone offsides, you haven’t been illegally caught moving before the football is snappedhow do you prevent that from happening, from a veteran trying to pass it on to the younger guys?”
Alas, even Koken eventually ran out of things to say. Things got ugly, as expected, with the first caller. Shortly after getting on the air, somebody named Darrell was threatening Mitchell, and Mitchell was threatening back.
“You’re not going to win no more!” Darrell screamed. “And I’m going to come down to the Shark Club and take some dollars out of your pocket!”
True to form, Mitchell quickly suggested that Darrell come down to the Shark Club to tango.
Darrell wouldn’t be the last one to get the invite. Thanks to Koken’s linguistic gymnastics, only six listeners got their shots at Mitchell on that night. None offered undying loyalty to the player or the team. All but one were openly hostile. The nicest caller all show asked why Skip Hicks and James ThrashMitchell’s replacements on return teamsaren’t given more playing time.
A caller named Evan came on to close out the show. “Norv needs to make some changes,” he declared, “and, Brian, you need to be one of them. A couple years ago you said whenever people aren’t doing their job, they should make the change. You’re not doing your job.”
“You say I’m not doing my job?” Mitchell asked.
“No, you’re not doing your job.”
“I’m not doing my job?”
As producers jettisoned Evan, Mitchell appeared to finally have had enough.
“What this show has become is, somebody’s got to call and be idiotic,” he steamed, genuinely mad. And just before going off the air, he resumed his defiant tone. “You want to take a shot at me, take it. You’ll be taking ’em at me for at least another four years.”
Four more years of this? Doubtful, Brian. Very doubtful.Dave McKenna