Why didn’t John Mitchell, the first Alabama football player to see the pitch, forget Paul “Bear” Bryant?

Half a century later, John Mitchell listens to the words of his former coach Paul “Bar” Bryant.

Mitchell, a former Alabama football defender in the 1970s, still remembers what Bryant said about praise.

“Every time you are honored, it does not matter what you did,” Mitchell recalls Bryant. “That’s what the people around you did.”

Ahead of Saturday A-Day, Mitchell wants to appreciate the people around him who helped make history. But what he did to become the first blackjack player to see the Alabama football field in 1971 is certainly significant.

That’s why he և Wilbur Jackson, the first black football player to receive a scholarship to Alabama in 1970, was honored on Saturday when Crimson Tide played his spring football game at 2 p.m.

Bear Bryant և John Mitchell

Bear Bryant և John Mitchell

“It means a lot, but I think because Wilbur Jackson first put his toes in the water, it made it easier for people of color to come to the University of Alabama,” Mitchell told The Tuscaloosa News. “I told Wilbur this week that I was going to drive his coats. “If it weren’t for Wilbur Jackson, John Mitchell might never have been there.”

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Mitchell, a mobile native, began his college football career at Argelayan Arizona Junior College before moving to Alabama. He became the first blackjack assistant coach at UA. After a few more stops, he became the first blackberry coordinator at the LSU Southern Conference in 1990. He then served as a defensive assistant with the Cleveland Browns for three seasons. Mitchell has been coach at the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1994 and is currently the assistant head coach.

Mitchell was not even on Crimson Tide’s radar until Bryant heard about him from Southern California coach John McKay at the clinic where Bryant was speaking.

Bryant excused himself from the meeting to call his recruiter at Mobile. They searched for each of John Mitchell in the phone book until they came across John Mitchell Sr., Mitchell’s father.

“As a kid, I used to watch Tide on TV and listen to their games on the radio,” Mitchell said. “But Alabama won four national championships with coach Bryant at the time, so if you were a kid growing up in the South, you knew a little bit about Alabama football.”

Tennessee's Bobby Majors, 44, manages to cross five yards before Alabama's John Mitchell, 97, moves to a stop.  Alabama flipped over 32-15 volumes until 73828 at Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala, October 16, 1971.

Tennessee Bobby Majors, 44, manages to cross the five yards before Alabama’s John Mitchell, 97, moves to a stop. Alabama flipped over 32-15 volumes until 73828 at Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala, October 16, 1971.

But Mitchell did not know Jackson was in Alabama until he paid an official visit to Tuscaloosa. Originally planning to attend USC, Mitchell moved closer to home so his parents could come and watch his game.

He later became the second student to receive a scholarship in Alabama.

“I’ve said it many times, my adjustment there was very smooth,” Mitchell said. “Wilbur had a lot to do with it, because I think his decision was bigger than my decision to go there.”

If someone other than Bryant ran the program, Mitchell said, the situation would probably be different.

“I was just another guy on the team trying to make a team,” Mitchell said. “I think the respect they had for the coach made it much easier for me to spend time there.”

Not only did Bryant’s words last 50 years for Mitchell, but his company with his roommate, teammate Bobby Stanford.

Stanford was asked to be Mitchell’s roommate, but was not initially told Mitchell was black. He agreed, և when he learned of Mitchell’s race, according to Mitchell, Stanford said: “So what?”

“We respected each other, we loved each other, we had the same views on many things,” Mitchell said. “We did not agree on everything, but we respected each other.”

John Mitchell

John Mitchell

Stanford’s parents went to the Alabama Games to watch him play in a mobile home. He had to undergo knee surgery, which was ending his career, but even then his parents were still leaving for Albany, Georgia.

“The kind of Bobby’s parents brought me, whatever they brought to me,” Mitchell said. “They are like my second parents.”

Their friendship has been maintained since the United States. Stanford was at Mitchell’s wedding. They talk three times a week. And Stanford will be with Mitchell’s family ընկեր friends at Bryant-Dan Stadium on Saturday.

“It will mean a lot,” Mitchell said.

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Of course, Jackson will be there too. Mitchell will be presented with a plaque, which will open at 12:30, and then they will stand together on the field during the spring break, which will start at 14:00.

The pioneer duo shared many moments together in that field. Mitchell was a strong defender and Jackson was an elite midfielder.

January 17, 2016;  Denver, CO, USA;  Pittsburgh Steelers defense coach John Mitchell during the AFC Division play-off game against the Denver Broncos at the Sports Authority Field at Mile High.  Mandatory loan: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

January 17, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers defense coach John Mitchell during the AFC Division play-off game against the Denver Broncos at the Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory loan: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In other words, Mitchell can not help but remember Bryant. shouting and shouting during the fight because Mitchell could not throw Jackson to the ground.

Frankly, many could not. Jackson became the ninth overall pick in the 1974 NFL Draft.

“He was fast, fast,” Mitchell said. “I told Wilbur, “Hey, when we stand on the pitch on Saturday, it will be the closest I have ever reached you.”

Nick Kelly covers Alabama և Men’s basketball for The Tuscaloosa News, part of the USA TODAY network. Reach her at nkelly@gannett.com or follow her on Twitter. @_NickKelly:

This article was originally published in The Tuscaloosa News. John Mitchell remembers the words of “Bear” Bryant in honor of A-Day.

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