More than 20 years ago, Brian Mitchell was at a grocery store near Philadelphia when an older woman came up and asked if he were, indeed, “that Brian Mitchell.” The NFL football player. The running back and punt returner. That one?
Mitchell, new to the area, politely confirmed that was the case.
She then had a request — or, knowing Eagles fans, perhaps, more of a demand.
“She said, ‘Well, make sure you do for us, what you did against us,’ Mitchell said Monday, recalling the story over the phone.
Philadelphia fans, Mitchell can attest to Ryan Kerrigan, who just signed a one-year deal with the Eagles, don’t cut anyone much slack. Least of all the former Redskins, Nationals and other Washington stars who’ve made the trek up Interstate 95 in search of greener pastures.
Mitchell knows what it’s like to go from playing an entire career in one town, firmly entrenched on one side of the heated rivalry, only to end up in the other.
But Kerrigan and Mitchell share the fact that they spent at least a decade in the District before heading north. Pulling up those kinds of roots just hits different.
Come fall, the sight of Kerrigan in an Eagles uniform will be jarring. Just as it was to see Mitchell.
“When I played, I didn’t like any team I played against,” Mitchell said. “But when you’re told by a team that they don’t want you, then what do you do? Do you stop playing just because that team didn’t want you or do you go to the team that wants you? The Eagles showed me the most respect and so when I got there, my loyalty switched because now, my livelihood, my family is being taken care of by the money that this team was paying me.”
Mitchell didn’t have to be sold on playing for Philadelphia. He was initially surprised by Washington’s decision to release him after the 1999 season, and when he heard the Eagles were interested, he jumped on the chance to play Washington twice per year. Mitchell openly embraced the revenge narrative that sticks with players when switching teams.
Still, Mitchell said it was “strange” to finally face Washington — he thought he’d be there his whole career, he added. But it was just as strange to play for a fan base that booed him for years. Mitchell warmed up to Philadelphia, saying that he realized its fans were a lot like him: “Brash. In your Face,” he said.
“I was there for three years and my friends who go up there with me now are like, ‘Dude, the people act like you played longer in Philadelphia than you did in D.C.,’” Mitchell said with a laugh. “It was strange but fun. Say it like that.”
Kerrigan, of course, has quite a different personality from Mitchell. The 32-year-old is quiet and reserved. And he’s already said that revenge against Washington wasn’t a factor at all when signing a one-year deal with the Eagles.
“Get revenge on Washington? This place has been so good to me,” the 2011 first-rounder told ESPN.
Kerrigan will have to find his own way to connect to the City of Brotherly Love. There are plenty of approaches he could take, too. When baseball star Bryce Harper left the Washington Nationals in 2019 to join the Philadelphia Phillies, Harper said at his introductory press conference that he wanted to hoist the World Series trophy on Broad Street — though the superstar caught grief when he mistakenly vowed to “bring a title back to D.C.” just moments before.
Production will help. Mitchell remembers how the Eagles’ fans accepted him as soon as he broke open a big return in a preseason game.
“Ryan Kerrigan has always been a worker, has always been consistent and doesn’t do stupid things,” Mitchell said. “He’s a character guy, on and off the field. Philadelphia will fall in love with that.”
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