Gwen's gift hung near his heart, which happened to be swelling with pride and humility at the moment. Bobby Mitchell had vowed to close friends that he would get through this Pro Football Hall of Fame speech with no tears today. Halfway through, he paused to block a few.
The joking had stopped an hour or so earlier on this training-camp-hot afternoon, not long after somebody asked him and Sonny Jurgensen how each might fare under the liberalized offensive rules the National Football League has adopted recently.
"I'd have 300-yard halves," Jurgensen said.
"Well," mused Mitchell, "at 48 years of age I could run at least five patterns--and catch four passes."
Side-by-side was a wonderful way for them to be honored, for no two players meant more to the resurgence of the Redskins than Christian Adolph Jurgensen III and Robert Cornelius Mitchell.
Athletic Hessians, Jurgensen from North Carolina by way of the Philadelphia Eagles and Mitchell from Arkansas by way of the Cleveland Browns, they gave Washington unique style and substance.
Jurgensen was our macho self, Mitchell our conscience. Maybe nobody looked less like a classic quarterback than Jurgensen, until he let loose with that semisidearm whip.
We'd watch Jurgensen carouse, flaunt that massive stomach while putting 35 numbers on the scoreboard, and get sinfully envious. The Redskins' string of 122 straight sellouts began two years after he arrived.
Fact or fable, one Jurgensen story is transcendent. That's the time he swaggered into the huddle, 90-some yards from the end zone and behind by six points with 50-some seconds left in the game.
With a blade of grass in his teeth, he diagramed the sequence of plays that would fetch the touchdown few thought possible and in a time frame nobody could comprehend.
"Hell," Jurgensen insisted to flabbergasted teammates, "the only problem is what to do with those extra 10 seconds."
For Jurgensen, there were nine operations and uncommonly ordinary blockers. Only one pro coach, Vince Lombardi, was anything close to inspirational--and he was taken away after one season. Joe Theismann won a Super Bowl; much of Washington remains Jurgensen's.
Directly behind Billy Kilmer in the audience today, a few of the hundreds who had come hundreds of miles for Jurgensen and Mitchell held a sign that read:
"Sonny's Day Is Here."
Alecia Roberts thought it should have been years ago. She told her husband, H.B., just after George Allen forced Jurgensen to retire in 1974, not to plan anything for an early-July Saturday five years later. They'd be motoring from Martinsburg, W. Va., for his enshrinement. But the reunion kept being postponed.
Today, it finally happened.
"I bought these T-shirts," she said, pointing to the burgundy ones she and H.B. were sporting in the first row behind VIP seats. "I ironed the 9 on myself." Seems as though only gold 7's are fashionable.
Nearby, a 62-year-old sprite introduced herself and her daughter by saying: "I'm Billy; that's Sonny."
Betty Brunson knows that she and George Preston Marshall shared the same hometown, Grafton, W. Va. She was hoping the quarterback of her dreams when she first became devoted to the Redskins, Sammy Baugh, also would be here. That failed to come true. Being near Sonny and Billy was fine.
"We'd have a Sonny vs. Billy thing in our home," she said, pointing to daughter Rita MacNeal. She added, as fiercely loyal to Kilmer as ever: "If they don't hurry up and elect him to the Hall of Fame, I might not make it."
Enough time has passed in Washington for Rita to shake her head and admit: "Where I work, there are people who don't know who Sonny and Billy are. I can't believe it."
Whatever, no Hog shirts were sighted today.
Commissioner Pete Rozelle acknowledged the "hundreds" of Redskins fans on hand. Many were waving banners; some were on the grassy area just beyond the stands or sitting with their feet draped over a wall.
This is a small city that cares for football in a big way, and Jurgensen, Mitchell, Bobby Bell, Sid Gillman and Paul Warfield each was overwhelmed at times this weekend by how much.
Mitchell was overcome when his wife Gwen showed her love Friday. It was a chain that held a gold football. On the football was his number, 49, set in diamonds. With Hall of Fame ring No. 118, this was the most special set of jewelry a man could imagine.
It also was why Mitchell's voice was quivering a bit, before he stopped for perhaps 30 seconds to keep his eyes dry. He had just finished thanking his brother Joe and sister-in-law Betty. He was getting to Gwen.
"And a lady," he said, composed now, "who has been with me through all of this . . . On that day when I wanted to call it all off, because I didn't want another training camp, she talked to me about what we wanted out of all this. I think of the number of times she would walk behind so I could shine. I had the glory; she had all the strength."
At the Redskins' camp earlier in the week, Mitchell said he would prepare nothing in advance. Emotions would generate the right words. His were as touching as any of the impressive men who have stood in his place each of the past 20 years.
Few already in the hall could match Mitchell's all-around grace, as a runner, receiver and returner. Fifteen years after his last season, he still has the third best combined-yardage total in NFL history. Only O. J. Simpson has shot by.
Now Mitchell the orator was as eloquent as his presenter, Edward Bennett Williams. There was another woman to remember, and then thank.
"I miss my mother," he said. "I wish she could be here today. God, how she would laugh. She would be exceedingly happy that her son has made it to this point. She never understood this game of crashing into one another, beatin' up on one another. And she never understood why they would want to hit her son.
"She always wanted me to run fast and beat 'em back. Well, mother, I love you. I outran 'em, and I beat 'em."