At last count, Bobby Mitchell figured more than 200 of his friends and relatives, some arriving on buses from Washington, will attend his induction Saturday into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"Too many, it's hard to keep up with it," he said today. "But it's going to be fun for everyone. We're all looking forward to it."
Mitchell has been waiting 15 years since his retirement from the Redskins for this day. If all those people show up, he'll also break Sam Huff's one-year-old record for most fans in attendance.
A former teammate, quarterback Sonny Jurgensen, has been retired only nine years. Both he and Mitchell thought their inductions would never come.
"I thought about it when I was first eligible," Jurgensen said. "When I wasn't elected the first few years, I was disappointed. I decided to forget about it and not come to the Hall at all. I figured that was the best way to get it out of my mind. I know the day I found out I had made it, I was overwhelmed. My wife, Margo, told me. She was crying. She knew what it meant."
Six months after their first National Football League title in 40 years, the Washington Redskins will have two of their very best players from a less than glorious past receive the ultimate honor in a player's career. The team will be represented at the ceremonies by Edward Bennett Williams, who will give presentation speeches for both players.
These two players contributed significantly to helping each other reach the Hall. Jurgensen throwing to Mitchell was a wonderful combination in the mid-1960s, when the Redskins had the NFL's most prolific offense and one of its worst defenses.
Mitchell played another significant role. He was the team's first black athlete, a man who performed splendidly under pressure that only a few have had to endure. He ended a shameful phase in the team's history, an era that had put the Redskins years behind most NFL teams.
Mitchell was chosen by George Preston Marshall, the Redskins' founding owner, to be the team's first black player because of his easygoing disposition. The trade with Cleveland, where Mitchell had been a star running back, shocked both cities. The deal also is responsible for Mitchell's presence this weekend in Canton.
"The Redskins moved me to wide receiver and that prolonged my career and allowed me to run up a lot of statistics," said Mitchell. "If I had my wish, I would have remained a running back. But I'd be hurting more now and I would have played less then."
Mitchell, an assistant general manager with the Redskins, still is a trailblazer. Along with the Browns' Paul Warfield, he is one of the few black front office employes in the NFL. One day, he could become the league's first black general manager.
To Redskins fans, Jurgensen was more than a throwing quarterback. He was a symbol of excellence on an otherwise mediocre team. He simply was Sonny, the Redhead or No. 9, the man with the potbelly, the quick release and the toughness to withstand defenses that knew he had no alternative but to pass and pass some more every week.
As Jurgensen sat today with Mitchell and the other three inductees--Warfield, Bobby Bell and Sid Gillman--he glanced occasionally at his hands. He wasn't wearing any rings; the other four all wore some sort of championship gem, including Mitchell, who was showing off a Super Bowl XVII ring.
This ceremony is Jurgensen's Super Bowl, his championship. He once thought the failure of his teams to win more than they lost would cost him a spot in the Hall.
"I know people say this is the ultimate honor, but for me it is," he said. "I wanted a championship so badly when I played but never got one, not when I was healthy. This makes up for a lot of frustrations."
Of course, both Mitchell and Jurgensen have had their names in the Hall for years because of their playing accomplishments. The most significant numbers: Mitchell's 14,078 combined yards and his 91 touchdowns; Jurgensen's 82.8 career passing rating, third best in NFL history, and his 32,224 passing yards, fourth highest.
Jurgensen's sack totals have not been recorded, but that's what came to mind today when he was asked to autograph a picture in a display showing off the five 1983 inductees. He had to lay almost prone to accomplish his task; "A familiar position," he laughed, protecting a sore left shoulder hurt in a horseback riding accident early this month.
At least, the Hall has managed to spell his name correctly on all the plaques and roll calls. That isn't true for the Redskins' current coach, Joe Gibbs. On the display of winning Super Bowl coaches, which is included among a traveling Hall of Fame show, Gibbs' first name is listed as "Ron."
Gibbs should have been a quarterback, not a coach.