Ed. Note: Receiver Boo Mitchell teamed with quarterback Eric Jones for three seasons in the late 1980's under coach Watson Brown, and the pair is remembered as perhaps the greatest pass-and-catch combination in school history. Mitchell still holds the school records for receiving yards in a season (1,213 in 1988) and career receiving yards (2,964); the latter mark also stood for 13 years as an SEC record, until it was broken by LSU's Josh Reed in 2001. After a brief career in professional football Mitchell returned to his native Georgia, where he works today with Georgia Power in the Atlanta area.
VandyMania: Gerald, you are better known as "Boo" Mitchell to the legions of Vanderbilt fans that remember you from your playing days. First question-- where'd that nickname come from?
Gerald "Boo" Mitchell: Laughs Oh, it's kind of a long story. My parents had four kids that were all born back-to-back. They really hadn't planned on having a fifth one, and then I kind of happened along. When I was born, my mother gave me a nickname. She had never nicknamed any of the other kids, but she nicknamed me "Boopsie." My dad being the he-man that he was decided he couldn't have a son named Boopsie, so he shortened it to "Boop". My brothers and sisters call me that to this day. There was a four-year gap between me and the others, so my parents decided they wanted to have one more so I'd have a playmate to grow up with. When I was in junior high and my brother came up into seventh grade, he called me "Boop" in front of one my coaches, who thought he was saying "Boo." I tried to tell him it was Boop with a P, but he wouldn't listen. I've been Boo ever since. In Valdosta where I grew up, in the newspapers I was always known as Boo. It was never Gerald Mitchell. It was always Boo Mitchell.
VM: Tell us the story of how a Valdosta, Ga. guy wound up at Vanderbilt.
Mitchell: The year before, Carl Parker had come up to Vanderbilt. Carl and I had played football together for most of our lives. He went there and told me how good it was. My mother was a schoolteacher, among many other jobs that she had, raising six kids by herself. She wanted me to go to a good school. She told me all the state schools were out. Anything that had "University of" in front of it, I couldn't go to. Georgia, Florida, Alabama, all of those were out.
So I was really down to Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt or one of the service academies. I'd received congressional appointments to go to Navy, Army and Air Force. But I really wanted to play football in the SEC. That was a dream I had and a lot of kids share to this day. I still think to this day it's the best football conference in America. Vanderbilt really worked out for me, not to mention that at the time, with Coach MacIntyre the coach, they threw the ball about 80 percent of the time. Being a wide receiver, that helped my decision. Of course then Watson Brown came in and ran the option and all that other stuff (laugh). But somehow or other we still threw the ball quite a bit.
VM: Your school record for receiving yards in a season (1,213 in 1988) still holds up. How do you account for that incredible year? Eric Jones was the quarterback that year.
Mitchell: Right. It was really just uncanny. Eric and I had just an incredible connection. Bill Schmitz was my wide receivers coach, and he said, "We've watched the films 1,000 times, and we still don't understand how you and E.J. do some of the things you do." We just had an uncanny connection. We would make adjustments that we weren't really taught to make. He would throw it, and I'd just happen to be in that place. The coaches would say, I don't know how either one of you did that! I was just really fortunate that I had decent hands. I couldn't really run that fast, but I was able to run after the catch quite a bit. I can't remember too many balls that I caught that were over 20 yards. But I could make a 5- or 10-yard catch and make a decent run afterwards. That's where the majority of my yards came from.
VM: There weren't a whole lot of big wins during those years, but I do remember you beat Florida your senior year. What are some of your best memories of your playing career?
Mitchell: Like you said, beating Florida. We beat Mississippi State that year also. My biggest game ever was against Kansas my freshman year (1985). I had 184 yards receiving. Mark Wracher was the quarterback back then. Even my senior year, and all through my career, we had a lot of close calls. Tennessee, I think one year we lost 14-7. Another year it was 38-36. We had a lot of games like that. Georgia was always a big game, with me and E.J. being from Georgia. We always played them tough. We missed a 24-yard field goal one year that would have beat them. I have a lot of memories of games that we didn't necessarily win, but we perhaps could have and should have, and it went down to the wire.
VM: Do you still keep up with Eric? He's also living in Atlanta, correct?
Mitchell: He was, but he moved to Louisville last I heard. I believe he took a job with a pharmaceutical company. I lost track of him after he moved. I still keep up with Tony Pearcey quite a bit. We've always been really close. Joe Gentry, I still keep up with on a regular basis. I have a son, and I named my son after the three of them... his name is Anthony Eric Joseph Mitchell.
VM: Can you tell us about the rest of your family?
Mitchell: I'm divorced. I have two children-- a son whom we call "B.J.", which is short for "Boo, Jr.", even though his name is Anthony Eric Joseph. He's kind of like me-- nobody has ever called him Anthony a day in his life! I began calling him B.J. when he was in the womb. He came home from second grade upset one day because his teacher refused to call him B.J. He actually co-starred on the TV show "Like Family" on the WB network for two seasons, and he was always "B.J. Mitchell" in the credits. My daughter is Sydney Alexis Marie. I didn't want her to feel like I favored B.J., so I gave her three names too. Both of them are pretty good athletes. B.J. is 12 and Sydney is 10.
VM: What was your reaction when you found out Vanderbilt had named you an SEC Legend?
Mitchell: I guess I was shocked and somewhat embarrassed! I look at the list of people, and I see Dan Reeves, George Blanda, Lomas Brown... and I said, man, I do not belong in that company! I am going to feel so out of place with these guys. But I'm going to go and enjoy it. When Rod Williamson called to tell me, I couldn't believe it. Those are pretty big names. Then I find out Will Wolford has received it before, and I'm just in awe of Will and the career he had. It's a great honor. I'm just overwhelmed.
VM: How plugged in do you stay to Vanderbilt football these days.
Mitchell: I'm not plugged in to the degree I probably should be. I watch all the games I can, and I'm always pulling for them. But I wish I could be more involved. I actually met Coach Johnson a couple of years ago. And I'm a volunteer assistant coach at one of the high schools year, so some of the assistant coaches have called about some help with some players they're recruiting.
I'm president now of the greater Lilburn Football Association, which is a feeder program to some of the high schools here. That's where my kids play, and I coach there as well. I coach my son's team. Chuck Scott lives here, and he coaches at a rival association. It's been kind of fun coaching against his team and seeing him all the time.
The Southeastern Conference will honor Mitchell Friday at the 2004 AllTel SEC Legends dinner in Atlanta. For more information on the dinner and the honorees, click here.