He came to Canada chasing an opportunity to continue playing football. On Monday night, Derrell (Mookie) Mitchell will forever be a part of the Toronto Argonauts.
Toronto (2-0) will add the speedy receiver and veteran quarterback Damon Allen to its all-time team before hosting the B.C. Lions (3-0) at BMO Field. That will boost the overall number to 24.
The five-foot-nine, 190-pound Mitchell spent eight of his 11 CFL seasons with Toronto (1997-03, 2007). The 51-year-old Miami native is the franchise’s all-time leader in receiving yards (9,047) and TD grabs (74), second in catches (609, behind only GM Mike (Pinball) Clemons with 682) and third in all-time touchdowns.
Mitchell earned Grey Cups rings with Toronto (1997) and Edmonton (2005). He finished his CFL career with 821 receptions for 12,014 yards and 90 TDs and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2016.
“This is truly an honour,” Mitchell said of his all-time Argos selection. “I was really shocked when I got the call because news like this always catches you off guard.
Mitchell made an immediate impact with Toronto, earning the CFL’s top rookie award in 1997 after registering 77 catches for 1,457 yards and 17 TDs. The Doug Flutie-led Argos finished atop the East Division with a second straight 15-3 record en route to a second straight Grey Cup title that year.
Flutie left Toronto in the off-season to join the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. The club signed veteran Kerwin Bell and although the Argos (9-9) fell to third in the East Division, Bell immediately clicked with Mitchell, who set a CFL single-season record of 160 catches for 2,000 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Mitchell returns to Toronto after stint with Edmonton
Surprisingly, Mitchell was released by Toronto after the ’03 season but quickly signed with Edmonton. Over three seasons, Mitchell had 212 catches for 2,967 yards and 16 touchdowns and helped the franchise win a Grey Cup in 2005.
After being released by Edmonton before the ’07 season, Mitchell returned to Toronto, recording 25 catches for 366 yards and a TD. On July 26 during a home game against Montreal, Mitchell hauled in an Allen pass to break Paul Masotti’s club record of 8,772 career receiving yards.
“Those were some special years, some special moments,” Mitchell said. “I give all of my former teammates all of the credit because they all made the CFL game so easy for me, they taught me this game.
“I was blessed just to be around a bunch of unselfish guys who’d give up their own plays to put me in positions to have success on the field.”
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Mitchell said being inducted Monday with Allen will be special for him and he wonders what more the two could’ve accomplished had they played together longer.
“I think it would’ve been special because we understood the game, we understood defences, we understood philosophies and what defences were trying to take away,” Mitchell said. “It would’ve been something to see had we been able to hook up earlier in our careers.”
Coming to Canada
Mitchell’s success in Canada came despite knowing little about the CFL after joining the Argos.
“I’d caught a couple of games [on TV] growing up just loving the game of football,” he said. “When I was released by the Saints [New Orleans drafted Mitchell in 1995], I told my agent, ‘Hey man, I want to play football. Do you have any connections in Canada?’
Mitchell said he never wanted to leave Toronto but remains thankful he could finish his career with the Argos.
“It was like that storybook ending for me,” he said. “Even when it ended in ’07, I felt like I still have more football in me but I was so appreciative of Pinball and the organization bringing me back and just giving me an opportunity.”
After his playing career ended, Mitchell spent time in Edmonton as a receivers coach. He’s currently the president of the Elks alumni association and works in the Alberta city as a team leader running two residential homes for Indigenous youths.
Record-breaking career for Allen
Allen, 59, spent the final five seasons of his illustrious 23-year CFL career with Toronto (2003-07). The veteran quarterback led the Argos to their 15th Grey Cup title in ’04, earning MVP honours after passing for 299 yards and a touchdown while scoring twice in a 27-19 victory over the B.C. Lions.
The following season, the six-foot-one, 180-pound Allen was named the CFL’s outstanding player after throwing for a career-high 5,082 yards and 33 TDs. He’s one of three Argos to crack the 5,000-yard passing plateau — Flutie did it twice (5,720 in 1996, 5,505 in ’97) and Ricky Ray (5,546 in 2017).
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Allen retired after the ’07 season as pro football’s all-time passing leader with 72,381 yards. He remains fourth overall behind retired NFL stars Tom Brady (89,214) and Drew Brees (80,358) and Anthony Calvillo (79,816), currently the Montreal Alouettes offensive coordinator/quarterback coach.
Allen threw for 13,974 yards with Toronto, leaving him third all-time behind Ray (20,205) and Condredge Holloway (16,619).
Allen also played for Edmonton (1985-88, 93-94), Ottawa (1989-91), Hamilton (1992), Memphis (1995) and B.C. (1996-02). The four-time Grey Cup champion went into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2012.