By: Colin DunlapBy Colin Dunlap


I can admit when I was wrong.

I do often.

Some other media types around town should try it — it really is quite liberating and therapeutic.

So, here it is: I was wrong about Mike Mitchell.

There’s been a total 180 from this camp about the guy.

I don’t just like him now; I love him.

You get that? I love the guy.

I love the way he plays, I love the passion he plays with, I love the edge with which he goes about his business and, perhaps most of all, I love that he doesn’t seem to give a flip who he makes mad in the process.

You see, Steelers safety Mike Mitchell was someone I didn’t care for last season — and I wasn’t alone — as he stumbled and blundered through his first season in a Pittsburgh uniform. He was a liability most of the time he was on the football field.

What has become glaringly evident through nine games this season — with Mitchell playing masterfully — is that his missteps last season had to be in large part because of those sore groins (yep, two of them) he was competing through.

Now healthy, we see precisely why Kevin Colbert and the front office found it necessary to go get Mitchell to bolster the back end of the defense.

That said, however, playing well and getting results isn’t good enough for a large portion of the populace of Steeler Nation. No, it seems Mitchell — loud and voluble — rubs them the wrong way for both the way he walks and way he talks.

The latest episode came Sunday in a key AFC victory against the Raiders when Mitchell delivered one of his signature booming hits on Oakland running back Latavius Murray.

It was the last play Murray would see on that day.

Mitchell put him to sleep with the score 21-21 late in the third quarter as Murray fumbled, turned the ball over and also left with a head injury.

For my money, it changed the game as it forced the Raiders to play without their top ground threat the remainder of the game.

But the talk soon thereafter — and even stronger as the play was replayed through a whole Sunday night news cycle — was about what Mitchell did following the wallop. As the ball was bouncing free, Mitchell celebrated the hit whilst his teammates simultaneously pounced on the ball.

From some circles, Mitchell has drawn heavy criticism for celebrating while there was still a live ball.

From this corner, I say “shut it.”

Mike Mitchell claims that he understood his teammates were going to swallow up the loose ball and also made a point in postgame interviews to explain that when a thunderous hit like that happens, his first reaction is to relish in the moment.

“I’m just a passionate football player,” Mitchell said. “I hate that it rubs people the wrong way, but I’m not gonna change, man. I’m always gonna be passionate. If you don’t want to see me get excited, don’t come to the games or don’t let me make plays.”

Exactly.

Turn away if you don’t like it.

It isn’t like Mike Mitchell was dancing atop a loose football and was the only person within 60 yards of it who had a chance to recover it.

You know who recovered the ball on the play Mitchell made the hit on? The Steelers.

You know who would have recovered the ball if Mitchell would have ceased celebrating and dove among that sea of humanity jockeying for it?

The Steelers.

It feels like the people overly-critical of Mike Mitchell today are hating on Mike Mitchell just to hate on Mike Mitchell.

“I’m not going to not be physical,” Mitchell said. “If you come across the middle, I’m going to try to hit you. And I’ll deal with the consequences later.”

Good.

That’s truth.

That’s brutal, fierce, vicious truth — without homogenizing or regulating anything.

In short, Mike Mitchell is playing a violent game where he wants to be the most violent human out there and he isn’t afraid to talk about it.

He’s also a guy who understands one of the subsidiaries of his profession is that he might be asked to knock a man out from time to time. And, in the throes of doing that, if he gets excited while a football bounces along the turf, I’m never going to speak ill of him.

You do what you wish, but I’ve come to enjoy Mike Mitchell.

I have done a total 180 on the guy, largely because I elect to concentrate on the portion of the play where he knocked Murray from the football game and dislodged the football and not the portion of the play where he didn’t dive on the grass for a fumble.

A fumble the Steelers recovered anyway.

Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com. Check out his bio here.

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