People across the country are remembering Mitch Petrus as a University of Arkansas football star turned Super Bowl champion. He was an imposing offensive lineman who managed to make it from the farming fields of Carlisle, Arkansas to football’s biggest stage. On Friday morning, we learned Mitch died at just 32. It’s believed he suffered a heat stroke.
Mitch was much more than the football player being shown in national headlines.
The Mitch I knew flooded our newsroom with optimism, energy, and a laughter likely heard a few buildings away. He loved to make other people smile — and he nearly always did.
He produced dozens of sharable moments as a sideline reporer for Fox16’s Friday night football highlight show. I’ve laughed out loud numerous times today as people reposted them to social media following Mitch’s death.
If I trusted my gut, those moments probably never would’ve happened.
I can remember Fox16 sports director Wess Moore pitching the idea of making Mitch a regular contributor on the show. Undoubtedly, the former New York Giant and New England Patriot oozed charisma. But a TV reporter? He didn’t exactly fit the mold of a traditional sportcaster.
While it’s been awhile since we had the conversation, I imagine it went something like this:
“Mitch Petrus? Like the former Razorback? I’m not sure that will work,” I replied.
“I think he’ll be just fine,” Wess responded. “Let’s give him a try.”
Wess was absolutely right. In a world where we often challenge anchors and hosts to create memorable moments, Petrus delivered them every outing — and seemingly effortlessly.
And while those sharable snippets help paint the picture of his larger-than-life personality, there’s something more I’ll appreciate about Mitch and his time working in our Little Rock newsroom. The guy improved morale just by being there. If you were having a bad day, that changed when Mitch walked through the door. Quite frankly, he didn’t give you a choice.
What a gift Mitch had. He made everyone else feel better about themselves.
You can’t ask for much more in a person.