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Mick Mixon
Mick Mixon's time in the booth is coming to a close, but his time is also just starting
The Panthers Radio Network announcer is retiring after Sunday's game, and those who know him think the best is yet to come.
By Darin Gantt Jan 07, 2022

CHARLOTTE — The fans who have listened to Mick Mixon for a lifetime, the co-workers who have walked sidelines and press boxes with him, and the friends who have shared dinners and quiet, unspoken moments, they're the ones who might not be sure what it will be like without him.

Mick Mixon, it appears, has a good sense of what's coming next. And befitting his musical background, a perfect sense of timing.

The Panthers radio play-by-play announcer is working up to the encore of this particular set. He's got a game to call Sunday in Tampa, and a final episode of Panther Talk to tape Monday at Bank of America Stadium, and then it's off to retirement for the 63-year-old announcer.

While a lot of the people who work in sports have such a close tie to the games they cover that the absence might rob that person of their context, that's not the case with Mixon. He can't be described only in sports terms, because that's just one part of a life lived largely and in full.

"He's the last person in the world I'm worried about in retirement," said Falcons play-by-play man Wes Durham, who has known Mixon for decades, going back to his work with Durham's father Woody at the University of North Carolina. "All the things that people work all their lives trying to figure out, he's already got."

Mick Mixon

To understand why Mixon's walking away at this particular time, there are a few people and places and things you have to know — the charts and the stats you have to prepare before you call this particular game.

The first at this moment is the former Dawn Elizabeth Thomas — now Mixon — his wife and partner in this next chapter of his life. (Saying all three names is one of Mixon's charming quirks, as Julius Frazier Peppers and Cameron Jerrell Newton know well.) There are also their three grandchildren, with one on the way. But there are also Forest Orion Mixon Jr. and Sandra Mixon, Mick's parents, who died in a commercial airline crash in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1989. They were 57 and 54 years old at the time, never able to enjoy the golden years where they could get in the shop and tinker, or paint, or spend the time they wanted with family.

Mixon wants to enjoy that time, but in recent years, time has been stretched thin. When Dawn's father fell ill a few years ago, they decided to sell their house in Charlotte, and keep a small studio apartment here but take most of their stuff back to Burlington so she could be closer to her dad. That meant burning up the roads, too many trips up and down a mind-numbing stretch of I-85. "Two hours, door to door, and that's with no bathroom breaks," she said with a laugh.

As much as he loves his job, and he does, he loves his wife and the kids and he knows that time is a precious commodity.

"I think he thought about his parents a lot when he made this decision," Dawn said. "The fact they never got to have these years stayed with him, and he wants to be able to enjoy these years while he can, while we're healthy and able to do the things we want to do.

"For the last few years, we've been in two homes in two towns, two hours apart, and he wants to be in one place."

Dawn has plenty of ideas of how to fill Mick's hours, in case he needs any help. There are boxes of Christmas decorations in the garage which need some attention. But she also knows her husband well enough to know that with his mind, free time is fertile ground.

"I don't know exactly what he's going to be like, because I've always known him working," she said. "At the same time, we're very excited about what comes next. I know Mick, and he's always going to have a project."

Mixon Family

His parents were on Mixon's mind when he considered walking away a year ago, but he didn't want the hermetically sealed version of pandemic broadcasting to be his last.

Because even when Mixon is in a radio booth in normal times, he likes to fling the windows open, to feel the sting of the cold Buffalo wind in his face, to sense the history that's built into the girders of Lambeau Field, to absorb the passion of Steelers fans, or the warmth that radiates from the crowd back in Charlotte.

But there's a different space on his mind right now.

Mick and Dawn bought themselves a farm, a 60-acre spread in suburban Burlington, a small corner of Alamance County to call their own. Mixon's pat answer when someone asks what's next usually involves something about climbing aboard his John Deere tractor, attaching the bush hog, and "cutting back some vegetation." (If you've listened to Mixon over the years, and those gloriously and meticulously descriptive scene-setting introductions to every game broadcast, you're aware that it's never simply "mowing the grass.")

Mixon was on that tractor, on that farm one day recently, when the youngest of the grandkids — 3-year-old Kaison — had a specific request. As children will, Kaison wanted to drive the tractor.

So Mick put him up on his lap, showed him the knobs and the levers that controlled the dump bucket, and the two of them went about the work of moving a small amount of debris around.

"Today, I'm a farmer," Kaison told him.

And for a lot of days moving forward, Mixon will be one too. Among other things. Mixon grows quiet for a beat when he tells that story, and you can sense its importance to him. There's a glamour to spending a life in coliseums and stadiums, the brightest stages full of the biggest stars. But riding on a big yellow tractor with a wide-eyed child, moving a couple of limbs and some dirt around, that sounds like a pretty good day right now.

Mick Mixon

Durham laughed and joked that he'd never quite know what to do if he retired from calling Falcons games, or co-hosting his show on the ACC Network. He remembered his father Woody feeling a big loss when he retired, because the job becomes so central to your identity.

And he remembered how mystified his father was the first time his young partner Mixon walked into a game carrying a pair of drumsticks.

In addition to his encyclopedic memory of athletics, and unabridged-dictionary-sized vocabulary, and his easy delivery, and his ability to work a room and make everyone feel like they're the most important person in it, Mixon can do a lot of other stuff. Fix a car. Plow a field. Play some drums. So for Mixon to walk down to press row of a basketball gym with a pair of drumsticks, knocking out a rhythm during the pregame or a timeout, that wasn't particularly out of the ordinary for him. Durham said when his father retired, there was always a sense of uncertainty of what to do with his days, before he settled into a groove of playing golf on Saturday mornings in the fall, then tailgating at a Tar Heels game with friends. He doesn't anticipate that uncertainty for Mixon.

"The thing you have to remember is we're talking about two different people," Durham said. "Mick Mixon is that guy behind the mic, that smooth, comfortable voice, that ability to take you to the game and describe it in a way that makes it feel like you're there.

"Now Forest Orion Mixon the Third, he's a different cat. Forest Orion Mixon is the tractor guy, the car guy, the guy who can fix anything mechanical, and has the ability to play the drums all night. That guy's going to be just fine."

Another important thing to remember about Mixon is that he'd be terminally embarrassed to imagine anyone was writing a story like this about him, or making any kind of fuss. Whether it was growing up in Chapel Hill and calling the imaginary broadcasts of his own golf matches, or doing play-by-play for the Triple-A Maine Guides, or the Tar Heels, or the Panthers, he's always been the one doing the describing, and it's never been about him.

And as the clock ticks closer and closer to zero on his broadcast career, there have been a couple of moments that got him, and there might be a couple more.

Mixon's still in fighting shape, a bantamweight who dresses like a welterweight sometimes, but obviously still fit. He stays that way by running stairs. Up and down through the concourses and rows of Bank of America Stadium, or Wofford's Gibbs Stadium when he's away at training camp. He does it alone, and recently, he paused at the top, and looked around the building he's spent the last 17 years in, and back across the city that's grown up around it. And in that moment, all the calls, all the players and coaches, all the events he's emceed, they all came back.

"I realized there weren't going to be too many more of these," he said.

His wife mentioned that run, as well as the most recent installment of the Happy Half Hour podcast he's sat in on for the last month. After a few minutes of football, we got down to the real business of the show, a tribute to Mixon, a collection of familiar voices, co-workers, and friends who talked about what Mixon meant to them.

Sitting back in his chair in that studio, one of five people in a dark room full of knobs and buttons and microphones, you could see the years wash over him. He was able to pivot, made a joke about his allergies acting up, and on with the show.

"I think the two times he realized it, was when he was running the stairs, and the other day with the podcast — he wasn't expecting that," Dawn said. "He's such a humble man, that it was hard for him to hear people talking about him.

"He's always been pretty stoic, so I'm not sure what it's going to be like when he calls that last game, but it will have to be emotional for him."

And when that moment comes Sunday night, when he signs off that final game broadcast, the guy sitting next to him will see it up close.

Jim Szoke has partnered with Mixon so long, they don't even need to say full sentences to have entire conversations.

"We're like offensive linemen," Szoke said. "We have that unspoken communication sometimes; we know what the other one is thinking."

That's helpful during a broadcast, which is always a delicate dance among several people talking about a particular thing in one moment. But they know each other well enough to understand where the spaces in the conversation are.

That's not just a professional thing, either.

Theirs is the kind of partnership forged over not just hours spent in press boxes, but in rental cars and airport shuttles, in restaurants the night before games, and so many days and nights together.

Over the years, the relationship has grown, with Szoke's wife Sandra and Mick's wife Dawn becoming close, the women who maintain the social ties and make the plans, while the guys make the one-word jokes that cause them to burst into laughter.

So the idea of that partnership coming to an end in a few days is a lot to take in. The idea of something so familiar, so close not being there next season is hard to imagine. It's that way for all the fans who have listened to him for a generation, and for those who are even closer.

"It's going to be weird," Szoke deadpanned. "This is a guy I've known for so long, spent so many hours with, but I'm not sure what the end of that broadcast is going to be like. . . .

"Mostly, I know that when it's over, my friend is going to be in another city, he's not going to be right there the way he always has been. We'll still get together, we'll text, we'll stay in touch, we always will. But it's not going to be the same."

All football games have a clock. And when it hits zero in Tampa Sunday night, it's going to be an end of an era for Mixon and the Panthers.

But for Dawn and Mick and the grandkids, it's going to start the clock on the time they've longed for, the time Mick's parents never got to spend. And it's the time you know Forest Orion Mixon III's going to make the absolute most of.

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