The 1950s and 1960s
Trying to Kick the Losing Habit
By Ken Denlinger
Bobby Mitchell of the Cleveland Browns may have been among the last people to know. He was stationed at Maryland's Fort Meade, one of several NFL players summoned into military service during the 1961 Berlin crisis. After reveille on a fall morning, he was chatting with Redskins defensive end John Paluck, who also had been called up.
"He kept saying, `Boy, the greatest thing in the world has happened. It's gonna blow everybody's mind,' " Mitchell recalled, adding, "I kept saying to myself: 'What the hell is Paluck talking about?' "
What he was talking about was the most significant moment of the 1950s and 1960s for the Washington Redskins, one that became official on December 14, 1961. That was when Redskins owner George Preston Marshall finally ended his segregationist policies, the last NFL owner to do so. That was when he announced his stunning trade with Cleveland for Mitchell, the remarkable runner/receiver who later would enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Marshall, of course, didn't make the move out of the goodness of his heart. As previously noted, he did it because the federal government had threatened to block his team from playing in the new stadium it had financed. But whatever the reason, the team never would be the same again. At last, Washington no longer would have to draw players solely from the limited pool of white talent, a restriction that long had hamstrung the Redskins.