Ham wouldn't be egged on this time
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Freddie Mitchell has never heard of Fred "The Hammer" Williamson.
Mitchell was born 11 years after the Hammer said he was going to do some damage against the Green Bay Packers in the first Super Bowl. Williamson was going to drop the Hammer on the Packers. It was a bold claim. Trash talking hadn't yet been recognized as an Olympic sport, and just about everyone knew the Packers were going to toy with the Kansas City Chiefs, champions of the upstart American Football League. Most folks laughed off Williamson's boast.
And then the Hammer was knocked out cold in the second half of the Packers' rout. The Hammer went down after running into Donnie Anderson, and by the time he came to his senses, Vince Lombardi and friends were toasting their 35-10 victory.
Fast-forward to 2005. Mitchell went on ESPN with Dan Patrick and said he couldn't name the Patriots' defensive backs, adding that he's "got something" for bone-cracker Rodney Harrison.
To most of us, this seems foolish. Why provoke your opponent's hardest hitter? Harrison knows Mitchell is going to be running across the middle, fully exposed, stretching his frame to gather passes from Donovan McNabb. Why tug on Superman's cape?
The taunt provided the first controversy of the Super Bowl hype, solicited a predictable response from Harrison (Rodney basically wondered why anyone would listen to a guy who's only starting because Terrell Owens got hurt), and inspired a posse to surround Mitchell during Media Day at
"I'm going to give them so much bulletin-board material, it's crazy," Mitchell said at the start of his one-hour session.
Great, we thought. He's going to do it again. He's going to take over Media Day the way Nate Newton did when the big fella played for the Cowboys, or the way He Hate Me lit up the room in Houston last year.
But no. Mitchell wasn't backing off anything he said, but he submitted that it was harmless and that he meant no disrespect. Basically, he said the media made too big a deal out of it.
"It's been seriously blown up way out of proportion," he said. "I was definitely being facetious with the whole thing, but hey, that's just how it turned out. But I never feel bad for anything that I say. It's interesting how they blew it up. It's cool. Whatever happens."
When he was asked about Harrison's response, Mitchell said, "I'm definitely shocked, but that just shows you that person and how he is, what he's about. I'm not tripping. It doesn't bother me at all. At the end of the day, everything will get settled on the football field. When I saw the media pumping it up, I thought, `Man, if you're hyping Freddie Mitchell and Rodney Harrison, it's going to be a crappy Super Bowl.' "
Truly, Mitchell has not been a prime time player as a professional. He averaged a mere 23 catches per year in his first three seasons and had only 14 in the Eagles' first 14 games of 2004. Then Owens got hurt and Mitchell moved into the starting unit, catching eight balls in the final two games, and another seven in the two playoff wins. He caught a touchdown pass against the Vikings and got attention with a peacock-like hairstyle (he calls it a "Fro-Hawk") at the NFC Championship game.
Mitchell grew up in Lakeland, where he was a four-sport star in high school. He was twice drafted by major league baseball teams (Devil Rays and White Sox) and played outfield for UCLA's NCAA Super Regional team in 2000. He was a first-team All-America wide receiver with the Bruins and was the Eagles' first-round pick in 2001.
He's a natural ham and learned to hang with the rich and famous while at UCLA. He claims to be friends with Mick Jagger, Toby Keith, Elizabeth Hurley, and several Hollywood producers. He's hosted his own radio show in Philadelphia and dressed up as Sponge Bob Square Pants when the Eagles visited a children's hospital. But he was low-keying everything yesterday, perhaps acting on orders of his coach and teammates.
"This is football," said Mitchell. "They're coming at you aggressive on every play, even if you didn't say nothing to him. If you need me to talk to you to pump you up, then something's wrong.
"He took it the wrong way. Deal with it. We play football, not tennis. I expect to get hit all the time. Rodney is a great player. Some people let their actions speak and some people they say how they feel. He said how he feels and that's the end of it. There's no response back at him. I'm just going out there and let it be settled on Sunday.
"If they want to gang up on me, good. I like to take all the pressure. If they want to gang up on me, and they want to talk about me, good. But they need to be worried about Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, L.J. Smith. The whole team."
There's a thought: Maybe Mitchell is trying to take the pressure off his teammates, putting a bull's-eye on his back to get the Patriots off their game and make life easier for McNabb & Co.
Harrison sighed, then smirked when the topic was raised for the millionth time.
"My last statement about this is, all we're going to do is play football," he said. "It's not one guy. It's 45 guys, 53 guys who are going to make a difference. But you know where I'm from [Chicago]. OK? You know where I'm from, and it's hard for me to sleep at night. Look at me, I can't even sit down."
Harrison looked like he wanted to hit someone right there, right then. He looked like he wanted to put the hammer down. Hard. Right on Freddie Mitchell's Fro-Hawk.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is email@example.com.