If Scott Mitchell ever had the inclination to take his celebrity status seriously, it wouldn't last long. The record-smashing Ute quarterback always has his wife, Kimberly, to keep things in perspective.
Big statistics are one thing, cleaning the living room is another. Since she works over 40 hours a week to support them, she has assigned the NCAA's single-game passing leader - whom she fondly refers to as "Mr. Mom" - the rather un-All-American task of vacuuming the apartment.They also have a system whereby the person who dirties the most dishes during the day washes them at night. Since Kimberly works all day, guess who gets to wash up at night? Right. Mr. Mom.
The million-dollar left hand has dishwater wrinkles.
Keeping things in perspective can be hard when the subject is Mitchell. As just a sophomore at Utah he smashed a number of NCAA and school offensive records. Ute publicists are already gearing for a Heisman promotional blitz. If his statistics continue to mount, by 1990 Mitchell will be a contender for football's most coveted award.
His performance in 1988, as a sophomore, earned him honors as the Deseret News Athlete of the Year, where he joins such luminaries as Jim McMahon, Bruce Hurst, Steve Young and Henry Marsh. He outpolled gymnast Missy Marlowe and archer Denise Parker in voting among the Deseret News sports staffers.
Mitchell's latest award won't have a major effect on either him or his wife. She knew him when he wasn't a big name. Or at least he wasn't a big name to her.
The Mitchells, who married in December, met at a party in January, 1987. Although he was introduced as a quarterback on the football team, she apparently wasn't unduly impressed, because she got his name wrong. "She kept calling me Mike," says Mitchell.
They got along wonderfully, but the unassuming Mitchell didn't bother to tell her his name was Scott until about a month later when they were driving to Springville to meet his parents. "There's one thing I've got to tell you," he said. "My name's not Mike. It's Scott."
"I was so embarrassed," she says. "He looked like a Mike to me."
In 1987 when the Utes lost in Hawaii, Mitchell came on to quarterback in the second half, hoping to bring the Utes back from a one-touchdown deficit. But in the fourth quarter on a crucial third-down series he tripped and fell.
"I was mad at myself," says Mitchell. "I had dropped back to pass and fell flat on my back. Afterward, I was fuming about it. I was upset all night on the plane ride home. When I got to Salt Lake, Kim was waiting at the airport for me. She told me that she really liked the game. Then she said, `What was really funny was when you tripped.'
"I was furious," Mitchell continues. "I was so upset at the time. Here I was feeling sorry for myself and she found humor in it. It took a while, but I realized it probably was funny to see some big old giraffe falling down. I watched the films later - when it was bearable - and you know what? It was funny."
Opponents fail to see the humor in Mitchell's delivery. He threw for 511 yards against Idaho State; 453 against UTEP; and 384 well-chronicled yards against BYU. Against Air Force he threw for 631, the most ever in a college football game.
Along with the big figures come big superlatives. Teammates simply call him "The Golden Child."
Air Force Coach Fisher DeBerry calls him, "the epitome of a dropback quarterback," and adds, "We never played against a more accurate passer." Wyoming Coach Paul Roach says, "He may be as fine a pure passer as there is in the country. His arm is amazing."
And, of course, there is his own coach, Jim Fassel, who said from the beginning that Mitchell was a rare commodity. "Scott possesses all the tools of a great quarterback. Scott's All-America type numbers indicate that he is one of the outstanding young quarterbacks in the game today."
However, UTEP quarterback Pat Hegarty may have put it best: "Now that's a man."
Mitchell's self-effacing style draws comparisons to baseball superstar Dale Murphy. Both are Mormon, tall, handsome and criminally talented. And both struggle to balance their occupational celebrity statuswith their personal lives. Not surprisingly, Murphy has been an idol of Mitchell's.
"I used to watch all the Braves' games on cable," says Mitchell. "I always liked him. I thought he was neat. He was always my favorite player. Then when I heard he was Mormon and all those other things I went, `Whoa, hey, this is all right.' "
Since leading the Utes to a long-awaited victory over BYU last fall, he has been the most popular student on campus. Store clerks don't bother to ask for check identification. He is in demand as a public speaker and interview requests are expected to be so high next year that he will have to set up regular hours each week to handle them.
At work during the fall, Kimberly is often met with questions about Utah's strategy for the next game. "They think I know some top secret information," she says. "Sometimes I can't even tell you who they're playing."
Mitchell acknowledges that sports is important to society ("It's a big deal to a lot of people. Somebody is giving special attention to it, or athletes wouldn't make so much money."), but isn't willing to categorize it as the beginning and end of life.
"The funny thing is that these athletes that people put up on pedestals are just normal people," says Mitchell. "I know if people saw me in everyday life or saw me at home, they'd laugh. They'd say, `No way can this guy play football. He's just a normal guy."'
Of course, `normal' doesn't exactly say it for Mitchell, either. At 6-foot-6, 235 pounds, he is built for a long life in pro football. Fassel says Mitchell has the rare combination of intelligence, size and leadership that only a few quarterbacks have.
He can also throw a football 70 yards.
Mitchell admits his wife has a lot to do with his low-key approach to football. The first disagreement they had after marriage was over keeping the house clean.
"He's messy. He's a boy," she says. "I'm clean and picky. Scott says I'm too uptight. I told him it's important to me and he could help me with that. Scott told me it's stupid to worry about keeping things so clean. So I told him that if you want to talk about stupid, that when you think about it, it's really stupid for a guy to spend his time throwing a football down the field."
Mitchell is the quintessential team man. He is constantly deferring credit to his offensive line or blockers or coaches. His favorite post-game phrase is, "I was fortunate enough . . ." Most of the time he shuns the personal pronoun "I" in favor "we."
Even so, he is a favorite with the media. Mitchell is friendly and accessible, though never given to outrageous quotes that make headlines. His comments are thoughtful and non-inflammatory. "He thinks he's mysterious," laughs Kimberly. "I tell him, `If only they knew how big your mouth is.' "
Predictably, Mitchell's goals for next year are all team-oriented. He says one of them is to get Utah to a bowl game _ something the Utes haven't done since 1964. "I could care less about this individual stuff," he says. "I really could. It just kind of happens. It's not what I set out to do. It just happens."
And this year it happened in a big way.
Average yards passing -- 392.9
Average completions -- 29.3
Total offense -- 390.8
Total passing yards -- 4,322
Total offense yards -- 4,299
Passing -- 323-533-15
Most yards total offense, game -- 625
Most yards passing, game -- 631
Most completions 3 straight games -- 106
Most yards gained in opening game -- 511
Most total offense by a sophomore -- 4,299
Most yards passing by a sophomore -- 4,322
Most passing attempts, season -- 533
Most yards passing per game, season 392.9