By Joe Starkey
Monday, Nov. 9, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
Mike Mitchell attempts to strip the ball from Marcel Reese in Sunday's game against the Raiders (Getty Images)
In your opinion, perhaps, he celebrates too much. Sometimes inappropriately. Sometimes when the ball's on the ground.
Is that all you got on Mike Mitchell?
'Cause this is what I got: The man might be playing as violently and effectively as any safety in the NFL.
You know who I thought of Sunday as I watched this maniac, this heat-seeking Mitchell, blow up Oakland Raiders like they were clay pigeons? Jack Tatum. “The Assassin” from the 1970s Raiders.
Mitchell is beginning to fit nicely into the grand tradition of wild-man Steelers, too, from Jack Lambert to Greg Lloyd to Hines Ward and Ryan Clark. I mean that in terms of having blatant disregard for all bodies on the football field — including one's own.
How do you not love this guy? He runs out for introductions wearing a Terrible Towel over his face, outlaw style, and proceeds to smash people to bits and infuriate everyone in the building. On both sides.
Last year, Mike Tomlin called Mitchell's stuntman launch into the New York Jets' victory formation “unprofessional.” This year, Ramon Foster took exception to Mitchell celebrating a vicious but legal shot on Bengals receiver Marvin Jones.
Opposing teams seem to hate Mitchell's guts.
Ravens receiver Steve Smith promised to put Mitchell on his “lifetime hit list” after Mitchell put Smith on his “Greatest Hits” list and allegedly added, “How do you like that?” Jones called Mitchell “fake tough” to which Mitchell replied, “I wished I would have (hit him) low.”
Bengals receiver A.J. Green mocked Mitchell, saying “Some guys need to talk” as he described Mitchell getting in his face after the Jones hit and exclaiming, “You're next!”
To all of which I say, “beautiful.” What's the problem? Lloyd used to wear a T-shirt that read, “I Wasn't Hired For My Disposition.” Neither was Maniacal Mike.
It's easy to say Mitchell should tone it down. The question is, what do you lose if he does?
Strong safety Will Allen laughed when I mentioned Mitchell is a “lightning rod.”
“Well, man, he comes in and punishes people, and people don't like when they get punished. Especially offensive guys,” Allen said. “He's making an impact.”
Mitchell is tied for the team lead in interceptions (two), forced fumbles (two) and fumble recoveries (one) and is third in tackles (43).
Yet, you gauge fan reaction, and you wonder if he's doing anything right. He gets blasted for picking up a fumble with one foot out of bounds (“He shoulda' known!”) or for preening after a huge hit because it came after a decent gain (wait, so the hit doesn't count in that case?).
Maybe Mitchell still is paying for last season's sins. Never mind that he played nearly all of it with two abductor muscles torn from his pubic bone, a ring finger that wouldn't stop popping out of place and a safety partner who couldn't run anymore. He had three surgeries to correct the physical problems and is showing why the Steelers signed him for $25 million.
Even when Mitchell makes a great play, such as his fumble-causing knockout blow on Latavius Murray, people criticize him. He should have seen the fumble! He shouldn't have celebrated so soon!
OK, but I ask again: What might be lost if you ask Mitchell to temper his emotions? It's not like he's racking up personal fouls. The one against Cincinnati was dubious. Green got in Mitchell's face, too.
This much I know: Mitchell isn't going to change.
“I'm just a passionate football player, man,” he said Sunday, standing at his locker wearing a Pirates cap. “I hate that it rubs people the wrong way, but I'm not gonna change. You don't want to see me get excited? Don't come to the game or don't let me make plays.”
On the Murray hit, Mitchell said he felt the running back go “limp” in his arms. I asked about celebrating under such circumstances.
“I wasn't really celebrating because he went limp. I was celebrating because I knew I got a good hit and I saw (a teammate) recover the fumble,” Mitchell said. “I wouldn't want to see anyone injured. I would hope no one would want to see me injured.”
Mitchell laughed at hearing himself say that last sentence. Nobody would want to see him injured, eh?
“I'm sure there are opinions out there that would be different,” he said.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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