The big man is back. Max Mitchell. Mad Max, the gangsta sports rapper, spittin' knowledge from Georgia Avenue.
"I want to go live from the street! Different barbershops. Pool halls. Corners. Firehouses," says the gravel-voiced Mitchell. "Wherever the common man can be heard."
On this day, he is live from Total Sport, the hip athletic apparel store situated in a block of shops adjacent to Howard University's campus. This is where everybody who's anybody comes to buy throwback jerseys, warm-up suits, caps, whatever the fly wear to look fly. Officially, Mitchell is the store's assistant manager. Unofficially, he's the resident sports commentator, and Total Sport is his studio.
Last time we checked in with Mad Max (oh, five months ago), he was tap-dancing on Kwame Brown's head -- with spiked shoes. This would be the Kwame Brown who bailed on the Wizards during the team's magical playoff run and was suspended for the remainder of the season and finally shipped to the Los Angeles Lakers. Mitchell called him "a bum" in these pages, said the Wizards would be "lucky to get Gatorade" in exchange for him.
After that article appeared May 6, with a photo, Mitchell went to Legal Sea Foods and "I signed two autographs." At Total Sport, the ladies started calling. Is the big guy who was in the paper around?
But now it's football season, and today's subject for Mitchell is the latest Washington sports absurdity -- the idea promoted by the Redskins coaching staff that LaVar Arrington is no longer good enough to play linebacker for a team that is 3-2. Not good enough to crack the starting lineup, not good enough to crack the backup lineup, barely good enough to get in the game for kickoffs. Last week, in the team's second straight loss, Arrington was on the field just twice against the Kansas City Chiefs -- and only as a special teams player. Word has it that the Redskins wonder if he's good enough to sell hot dogs to hungry fans.
Mitchell, reflecting the opinion of approximately 1.9 million Redskins fans and tens of thousands of football experts around the globe, thinks this is just ludicrous.
"If LaVar packs his bags right now and he shows up at any team in the NFL, NFL Europe, the Canadian league, Arena football, he starts. Somebody's sitting down."
It has been suggested by the team's brightest minds that Arrington has not earned his time, that he doesn't practice well enough, that he likes to freelance too much in games, that he hasn't learned the team's defensive schemes or how to play within them.
Again, Mitchell finds the logic laughable. Didn't Arrington make the Pro Bowl three years straight?
"I buy Betty Crocker," Mitchell explains. "I don't go changing the recipes. With an athlete like LaVar, you go make a place for him to play. It's like if you have a team with Shaq on it." You know, Shaquille O'Neal, the agile giant and most dominant center in pro basketball? "You don't tell Shaq to get with the program. You tell the program to get with him."
The Redskins coaches like to boast that their defense is in the top five in the league. Good point. But ah, when it comes to making big plays, creating turnovers, this defense is right down at the bottom where the catfish feed. Sacks? Last in the league. Interceptions per passing attempt? Next to last in the league. Fumbles recovered? Second worst in the NFL. And Arrington, who causes quarterbacks to quiver with fright, has to beg to play?
Mitchell turns to sales associate Artrez McMillan. "All right, Trez. It's like you're the number one salesperson in America, but we don't have any room for you at Total Sport." Doesn't make sense, Mitchell concludes.
Arrington's troubles? "This issue is definitely off the field," he says, as in something to do with egos, contracts, relationships, temperaments but certainly not football. After all, the Redskins' own Web site lists Arrington as the "physical and emotional leader" of the team and among the "upper echelon of players in the league."
But not good enough to actually play?
"Next year, when he's gone someplace else," Mitchell assures us, "the Redskins and [Coach Joe] Gibbs and all the other coaches will be sitting around with egg on their faces, and the fans will be back to booing them."
This, of course, is only Mitchell's opinion, and you might be wondering about his pigskin credentials. First, he is big. Fills up a baggy pair of jeans and his forest green thermal. Second, he played at Roosevelt High School in the District. "I played defensive tackle, offensive line, punter, linebacker, everything." Third, he used to be a coach at Roosevelt and now coaches the undefeated Beacon House Falcons, a Pop Warner league team from Northeast. All this, and he's only 30. So listen to the man.
"I got a lot to say. The people got a lot to say. I'm not saying the people are always right, but sometimes they are."
At Total Sport, they feel for LaVar, who's visited the store plenty of times. "Excellent dude," says manager Tone Russell. "Very friendly. Signs autographs. Spends money." Russell will call Arrington, who played high school ball in Pittsburgh, whenever Steelers throwback jerseys come in. He's purchased Franco Harris's and Mean Joe Greene's and always relishes the calls, Russell says. "He'll come in and pretty much buy out the store."
Arrington's own No. 56 hangs in a prominent space among other Redskins jerseys. But Arrington's not playing, and his jersey's not selling. "He's not hot now," Russell laments. "It is what it is."
And this is what it is: Week 7 of the NFL season, and time is running short. They've sold Sean Taylor jerseys, Clinton Portis jerseys, Shawn Springs jerseys. "We've even sold some Mark Brunells, with his resurgence," Russell says. But Arrington's? "We haven't sold any of his jerseys."
Soooo. That means Total Sport is looking at shipping Arrington's jerseys back to Reebok for credit. And that breaks Russell's heart. "I like him personally, but yeah, if the jersey's not moving, we'll send it back without hesitation. . . . Not taking anything away from his game. We know he can still do it."
Maybe this is the week, as in today against the lowly San Francisco 49ers, whose offense is ranked second to last in the NFL. Gregg Williams, the Redskins' defensive mastermind, said Arrington had "a really good week of practice" and hinted that the once-star player might, just might, see enough action to get his uniform dirty.
Mad Max is dubious. He sees through Williams like Superman sees through buildings.
"He's tired of the pressure on his back! He's trying to pacify the public!" Mitchell is working himself into a foamy lather now. "Every announcer, every sports fan in America, wants to see LaVar on the field. All he's trying to do is throw us a bone. But they haven't given us a real reason why he's in the doghouse."
Play LaVar for real? Mitchell will believe it when he sees it. Right now, he's thinking about his own sports show from the streets. Mitchell says there could be an open-mike component, a 30-second segment called "Air Your Beef."
"Like I say, the fan ain't always right. But sometimes he is."