Bobby Mitchell is viewed as one of the greatest players to ever suit up for Washington, and now he is getting the recognition for it. The team has retired Mitchell's No. 49 and renamed the lower seating bowl of FedExField in his honor. The team will honor him and his family during the Washington Football Team's Thursday night game against the New York Giants.
Mitchell, who came to Washington via trade in 1962, spent seven years with the organization as a player and racked up 6,930 total yards of offense and 51 touchdowns while averaging 16.5 yards per reception. He was voted to three consecutive Pro Bowls and had at least 900 receiving yards in four seasons.
Mitchell's speed made him an immediate threat on Washington's offense, and there was always the chance he could break through on a big play. Here are five of Mitchell's best moments playing for Washington that stand out among the rest.
1. He put up 227 all-purpose yards in the 1962 season opener against Dallas.
Mitchell got an early taste of the rivalry between Washington and Dallas when the team opened the 1962 season by traveling to the Cotton Bowl. It didn't take long for Dallas to realize how dangerous Mitchell could be.
After Dallas took a 7-0 lead with a four-yard rushing touchdown from halfback Amos Marsh, Washington responded with a six-yard touchdown pass to Mitchell from quarterback Norm Snead. In the third quarter, just moments after Marsh put Dallas up 28-14, Mitchell took the ensuing kickoff 92 yards for the score.
In total, Mitchell caught six passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns, one of which was an 81-yard sprint in the fourth quarter that cut Dallas' lead to 35-28. Later in the quarter, Snead scored on a one-yard rushing touchdown, forcing the game to end in a tie.
Mitchell, who led the team in receiving yards, was the focal point of Washington's offense against Dallas, accounting for 47% of the offense's total yards.
2. He scored a game-winning touchdown against Cleveland.
One week later, Mitchell and Washington were on the road again, this time to Cleveland, making it the first time Mitchell faced his former team since the trade.
Washington started the game off with a pick six by defensive back Jim Steffen, but its offense was struggling to find any production. Cleveland, led by Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, had taken the lead after going on a 13-0 run in the first half.
In the second half, the two teams exchanged field goals to make the score 16-10. That's when Mitchell got open on the ensuing drive and ran away from the defense for a 50-yard touchdown, securing Washington's first win of the season, 17-16. It was one of two offensive touchdowns scored the entire game.
Once again, Mitchell led the team with three catches for 94 yards and accounted for nearly two-thirds of Snead's 147 passing yards.
3. He was the best receiver in the league for his first two seasons in Washington.
Mitchell was a halfback for the first four years of his career, splitting time with Brown in Cleveland's backfield. Once Mitchell was traded to Washington, head coach Bill McPeak moved him to flanker hoping he would be more productive as a receiver.
In his first two seasons at the new position, he was more dynamic than he ever was in Cleveland. He led the league with 72 receptions and 1,384 yards in 1962, which still stands as the fourth-best season for a receiver in team history.
He was even better in the following season. He had three fewer receptions in 1963, but he still managed to haul in 1,436 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 102.6 yards per game. At the time, it was the best single-season for a Washington receiver. It was finally broken 42 years later by Santana Moss, who had 1,483 yards in 2005.
Mitchell, who averaged at least 19 yards per reception in both seasons, also tied an NFL record when he scored a 99-yard touchdown against Cleveland in 1963, becoming just the second player in league history to achieve the feat.
4. He scored a 92-yard kickoff return against Cleveland.
A common trend during Mitchell's time in Washington was that he managed to have some of his best moments while playing against Cleveland. Exactly three months after scoring his 99-yard touchdown in the 1963 season opener, he followed that up with another 90-plus yard touchdown.
Washington was in need of a momentum shift during the season finale. A pair of field goals and a touchdown from quarterback Frank Ryan had Cleveland up 13-0 in the second quarter when Mitchell caught the kickoff from Lou Groza at the 8-yard line and scampered through Cleveland's coverage for a 92-yard score.
It was enough to galvanize Washington, and the offense managed to keep the score close for most of the game. However, despite touchdowns from Snead and halfback Billy Ray Barnes and 99 receiving yards from Mitchell, Washington lost the game, 27-20.
Although the outcome was a loss, Mitchell was still the game's top receiver. His 191 all-purpose yards made him the second-most productive player of the game behind Ryan.
5. He became the franchise's leader in receiving yards.
It was Oct. 30, 1966, during a road game against Philadelphia when Mitchell solidified himself in Washington's history.
Mitchell had four catches for 66 yards and scored the four-yard touchdown that secured the lead for Washington in a 27-13 victory, but that wasn't the main highlight of the game for the 31-year-old receiver. His performance propelled him past Hugh Taylor for the most career receiving yards in franchise history.
Taylor, who played from 1947-54, caught 273 passes for 5,233 yards and 58 touchdowns. Not only did Mitchell extend his career receiving yards to 6,492 by his retirement two years later, but he finished his career averaging 66.2 yards per game, which is the fourth-most in franchise history.
While Mitchell's record has been broken several times since his retirement, it still ranks fifth behind Art Monk, Charley Taylor, Gary Clark and Moss. All four of them have surpassed his career numbers by at least 1,000 yards, but Mitchell averaged more yards per reception and yards per game than any of them.