FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Former first round pick Johnny Mitchell was at New York Jets training camp two weeks ago, the veteran of six NFL seasons checking in on his old team. And as he stood on the sidelines in a green shirt and white khaki pants and a white baseball cap, one other thing was noticeable about Mitchell's wardrobe.
A Superman belt around his waist.
And not just any Superman belt, a lucky Superman belt.
The story and in fact the mystique of the belt began several years ago. Living in Great Britain, one of the six countries he has called home, Mitchell was out cycling one morning. Routinely, he will log 10 miles on the bike and this morning was no different as he cycled through town. He was focused on his workout, enjoying the burn and the challenge. His mind was somewhere else. When Mitchell cycles there is just the road and the endless horizon before him, nothing else.
And on the side of the road, basically in the gutter, something caught his eye. It was a belt buckle of the Superman logo. He stopped and got off his bike and stooped down. It was in good shape still and he was intrigued.
So he brought it home, cleaned it off, gave it a good polish and saw it come to life. He added a leather strap and fashioned it into a belt. He would wear it from time-to-time, it was a good conversation piece and a nifty bit of flair to his wardrobe.
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Fast forward a couple years and Mitchell is living in Brazil by this time. He was married and coaching a semipro football team in South America. The sport is growing in Brazil and Mitchell, a former NFL player, was revered in a country known for the other type of football, the kind played by Pele and Ronaldinho. Here he was, a former NFL player and a college football star, in a country where the sport is literally at its grassroots levels.
And not just that, he was the most successful coach in the country.
“I never lost a game, so this belt, it is my championship belt if you will,” Mitchell told Metro. “I wore it every game and never lost, not once. I had it on every game and never went a game without it. This belt, I guess you can say, has seen a lot of good times.”
His record in Brazil, he says, was 34-0 and he won the 2013 Brazilian Bowl with the Coritiba Crocodiles. He left after three years with the team saying he learned all that he could from the experience.
Now 44-years-old, he is married and has a daughter who was born in the United States.
He has recently done work in England for SkySports on television as well as ESPN Brasil.
“It was great down there, they really are starting to love our football,” Mitchell said with enthusiasm, the only way he knows how to speak. “Our championship game, there was like 15,000, maybe 20,000 there. They really get into it. It is growing.”
The sport will take some time to develop and grow. It isn't likely that there will be a Brazilian playing in the NFL anytime soon.
“They look great coming off the bus,” Mitchell said. “But there's maybe only one player down there who, right now, can possibly play in the NFL. There is still work to be done physically, understanding the game. But it is getting better each year.”
He hopes to get into coaching here in the United States but admits it can be a challenge to break into the fraternity. But for now he is happy with his life including his growing family as well as a growing career on television.
And of course, going everywhere with his lucky belt.