Acclaimed musician Neil Young once sang that “it’s better to burn out than to fade away.”
For former New England Patriots receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who was drafted in 2016, caught five passes in the fourth quarter of New England’s 34-28 comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI and then never played in another game (thanks in part to 10 surgeries), Young’s words describe his career perfectly.
Mitchell, 26, formally announced his retirement Friday at a TEDxUGA event in Athens, Georgia, the University of Georgia’s Red & Black student newspaper reported.
Mitchell relayed a story his mother would tell him when he was injured. The story involved a child whose mother heard him whine about sports and school being too difficult.
The mother in the story “had her son watch as she boiled an egg, a carrot and some coffee beans,” The Red & Black reported. “She said that the egg was fragile before but after withstanding the boiled test it became tough. With the carrot, what was one hard had turned soft. Yet the coffee beans changed their surroundings, merging with the water to adapt to its new environment.”
In the same way, Mitchell is adapting to his circumstances and beginning to write the next chapter of his life.
And indeed, there is something literal in that metaphor, as Mitchell is a published children’s book author prepared for life after football.
On the football field, however, he was more like the boiled egg.
For one game, a man who was at times physically fragile — again, 10 surgeries — became so tough that he was an integral part of the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history.
Boston Herald Radio’s Tucker Boynton pointed out just how crucial Mitchell was to keeping the Patriots’ fourth-quarter drives alive during the comeback.
Malcolm Mitchell thru the first three quarters of Super Bowl 51:
0 first downs
Malcolm Mitchell in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 51:
4 first downs pic.twitter.com/PfvpKAVrMS
— Tucker Boynton (@Tucker_TnL) March 23, 2019
Four of his five fourth-quarter catches moved the chains. One of them, on third-and 11 with 7:03 left in the game, set up a touchdown that made it a one-possession game.
Mitchell also caught a pass on the Patriots’ final drive of regulation, gaining 11 yards on 2nd-and-10 with 2:34 remaining. Less than two minutes later, the Patriots tied the game.
Back in January, Mitchell told ESPN that he still wanted to play again.
“I’m still motivated. I’m still encouraged. I’m recovering — the last surgery totaled out to be No. 10, and it takes a little while to come back from it,” Mitchell said at the time. “But I am working my way back. And I’ll be back.”
A Patriots trip to Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII means a visit with Malcolm Mitchell, who tells me this morning that New England will always be in his heart. He relays that his most recent surgery was his 10th, but he hasn’t given up hope of returning to the NFL. pic.twitter.com/j3Sq5JjkLH
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) January 30, 2019
“I still have New England in my heart. I think I always will,” he said.
“Jonathan Jones and I were great friends even before we ended up on the same team. On New Year’s, I texted everyone, from Devin McCourty, to Matthew Slater, to Tom, to Julian (Edelman). I know Danny (Amendola) isn’t on the team any more, but we still talk. It’s fun. Duron Harmon has been a huge encouragement. So I try to keep those relationships. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be there.”
There’s a certain irony in Mitchell, a man from Valdosta, Georgia, being so closely associated with one of the most shocking gut-punch moments in Atlanta sports history.
But through his support for child literacy and his writing, Mitchell will no doubt warm the hearts of the same people whose hearts he helped rip out on a fateful game day in February 2017.
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