The Giants didn't wait long at all to go after one of the NFL's all-time best return men, Brian Mitchell. Shortly after the free agency window opened for business, New York inked the 34-year-old Mitchell to a four-year contract worth approximately $3.5 million. Giants fans should well remember Mitchell, who has killed Big Blue through the years as a member of the Redskins for 10 years and the Eagles the past three. Now, Mitchell vows, New York fans will be plenty glad that he's on their side.
Q: You've been in town for a couple months now. What are your thoughts about being a New York Giant?
A: I'm excited about it. You come into an organization from the outside and you see how things are working. I'm impressed. It's a very professionally-run organization. A lot of the guys really care about their jobs. Guys are in here working their butts off. It makes you anxious to get in here and get started.
Q: How come you jumped at the Giants' offer?
A: When you think about making a move, you want to go to somebody that you think is a contender. You've got a lot of solid players here. Ike Hilliard, Jeremy [Shockey], Michael [Strahan], Tiki [Barber], Amani [Toomer], Kerry Collins was the best quarterback in the league going down the stretch last year. I've been on the East Coast for 13 years now. I'm very familiar with the NFC East and the Giants. Of the teams that wanted me, I felt this was the best team. And to be honest, I wanted to play against Philadelphia and against Washington. My time in Washington ended like no one would want it to. Instead of being truthful and saying that they wanted to go in another direction, they attacked me personally and attacked my character and my play. Philadelphia made it seem like I wasn't worth it. All year, I was so important. Then at the end of the year, I wasn't even worth a two-year deal. I believe in proving people wrong. Now I've moved only about an hour up the road and they're going to have to hear about it. Now I get to have four games that won't be very hard for me to get up for.
Q: For 13 years, you've hated the Giants. Now you're a Giant. How difficult is that transition?
A: The fans get more into that than the players. The week we're playing against you we don't like you. A lot of us are friends. When I'm on the field, I'm probably the most antagonizing person around. But that's just football. I have no hate for any team or its fans. But when I step into your stadium I don't like you until the game is over. My brother could be next to me and I'm going to try to step into his chest. You can play against guys and be friends with them. Lawrence Taylor and Carl Banks are good examples. We're all in a big fraternity. You like who pays you. Whatever team is taking care of you, that's the team you like.
Q: How about biting Brandon Short's finger at the bottom of a pile during his rookie year?
A: (Laughs). I really don't remember that one. He was probably putting his finger in my facemask so I bit it or something. That's just me on the field. But it's guys like that that you truly respect, guys that give 100 percent on the field all the time. I've been told countless times that I've missed the Pro Bowl because of my attitude on the field. I don't play football to be liked. I play football to win. If you don't like me, too bad. But if my team and the fans like me that's really all that matters. What I care about is helping my team win one or two extra games because of my play.
Q: Forget about the Pro Bowl, do you view yourself as a future Hall-of-Famer?
A: The last three years, I've heard a lot of talk about that. That's very humbling. Actually it's kind of embarrassing. But if you think about that stuff, you're done. I don't think about it because by no means do I think I'm finished. Every time we step on the field, that's our résumé. If I can keep doing this for how many more years, if I can leave the best résumé that Brian Mitchell can possibly leave, then it's up to the people that make the decision to determine that. If I make it, I'd be thrilled as hell. But if not, I can't really be too upset about it because I did the best I could and that's all that really matters to me.
Q: Has anything surprised you since you arrived here?
A: To be honest with you, watching Jeremy, Tiki, Amani, guys like that, you can imagine how hard they work. But then going into the locker room and watching how hard they work, it makes you feel good. As an older player, it makes you feel good to see younger guys putting so much into this game. It lets you know that we have a very good future in front of us.
Q: You've been answering questions about being too old for years now. What's your current answer?
A: The cynical fans are the ones that I prove wrong week in and week out. I've been asked that question for the last five years. If you want to answer that question, just look at what I've done. Teams I played against didn't want to kick the ball to me. That answers that. I have a lot left. Yeah, I've been in the league awhile, but I'm in a position where everyone sees it as being so dangerous. But the truth is that I get hit five, maybe six times a game. A running back gets hit 25 or 30 times a game. So my body is a lot younger in that sense. I put a lot of time into it and work my butt off during the off-season. I don't take anything for granted. I still feel like a rookie. I still feel excited. People say that I lost a step. Well, if you've lost one, it means that you had one to lose. I keep telling people that I don't have to outrun every return man in the league; I just have to outrun the 11 guys chasing me. Most of those guys chasing me are linebackers and tight ends. I think I can still run with the best of them. My desire and the way I approach the game when I get on the field overtakes everything else. You can't judge a person's heart. I don't think there are many people in the NFL with a bigger heart than Brian Mitchell. I think I'll still be asked that question another three years down the road.
Q: How much longer do you plan to play?
A: I signed a four-year deal, and I guess people think that's unheard of, but I know me and I really think I can do all four. I told my wife last year that I wanted to play three more years for sure. If I can play the third year here at a level that's still competitive, I know I'll get the fourth one. I plan to play all four. Then after that, I'm done. Guys ask me if I'm going to sign with Dallas next since I've been everywhere else in the division. That's not happening.
Q: How much of an impact can one special teams player make?
A: The guys around here see me as the old guy and the wise guy. But if I get out on the field and approach it like I'm a young guy, those guys are going to start working hard. At the same time, I'm taking the weight off Tiki's shoulders. You don't want a guy running the ball 25 times and then having to return punts as well. That's hard on him and puts him in kind of a risk position. I've been returning kicks and punts at a high level for a long time. Hopefully I can bring consistency, a little more experience and my enthusiasm. When you think of offense you think of Jeremy; when you think of defense you think of [Michael Strahan]. I expect people to think of me when they think of special teams. I'm still going to approach it as hard and as tough as I can. I'm still going to be in your face, because that's the type of player that I am. When you're a player like that, people don't like you if you're on the other team because you're good and you're doing what you're supposed to do. But your team loves you. For years I wasn't liked by the Giants fans, but I plan to be loved by them now. I was hated by Philly while I was with Washington, then loved when I got there. I plan to be hated by them again. On the field, I'm going to talk to you. If you can't handle someone saying something to you you're in the wrong game anyway. Once I figure out that you can't handle it, I'm going to keep doing it.
Q: Will your presence alone upgrade the play of some of the other special teamers?
A: It might. Some of these guys probably watched me when I was growing up. Some of the other guys might need to be persuaded. Either way, I can do that. I try to be like Art Monk. He never chastised or told you what to do; he just went out and did his job. You think, ‘Man, if Art Monk is working that hard, I better do my job, too.' Earnest Byner was another guy like that. When younger guys see that an older guy is interested in them, it makes them want to work even harder. Everyone has someone they're trying to please – it could be your coach, a player, your mom or dad. I'm going into my 14th season, but I've been [at the off-season program] from the first day. I might be old, but I can still run. And I don't have to think on the field. The young guy has to think. Earnest Byner took me under his wing in the very beginning and taught me that this is more than just a game. This is a business and this is my profession. And I've worked that way. Of all the guys drafted before me when I was drafted in the fifth round, I'm the only one left in the league.
Q: How have you been received so far by the Giants fans?
A: I've run into a lot of people that seem to be very thrilled that I'm here. I was recently at Disney World with my family and I saw more Giants fans down there than I've ever seen in my life. I even saw Eagles fans that said they appreciated what I did there. They're not going to cheer for the Giants, but they said they're going to cheer for me. That means a lot to me. That means that the things I've done around the league are still there. Hearing different fans all talking about how well I play the game makes me feel good. I think most Giants fans are saying that they hope I can do the same things for them that I did against them, and that's how I'm going to approach it.