It was a wager you couldn’t lose.
When the Cleveland Browns played the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 27, you could have bet that the winning football team would include a Jewish offensive lineman named Schwartz who grew up in the seaside Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles.
That’s because an improbable first occurred at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., on that sunny and warm Sunday. It was the only game in the 93-year history of the National Football League (NFL) where opposing teams fielded Jewish brothers. The fact that the two men happen to play the same position made the occasion even more unlikely.
Geoff Schwartz, 27, is in his fifth NFL season. A seventh-round draft pick for the Carolina Panthers, he went on to play for the Minnesota Vikings and now the Chiefs. His “little” brother, Mitchell, 24, is in his second NFL season starting for the Browns, who drafted him in the second round.
The brothers Schwartz weigh a combined 660 pounds. These are gentlemen you notice standing under a sukkah.
Offensive tackles are the sumo wrestlers of the football team. Their job is to crash into and thwart an opposing defensive player, carving out space for ball carriers to run or protecting the quarterback until he can complete a pass.
According to NFL.com, the only other Jewish brothers ever to have played in the NFL were Ralph and Arnold Horween, running backs for the Chicago Cardinals during the Harding administration. After a few years in the nascent league, these Harvard boys went on to lead the still-thriving Horween Leather Co. of Chicago. In 1996, Ralph turned 100, the first former NFL player to do so.
Although it pays well, nice Jewish boys from affluent suburbs do not typically pursue this kind of rugged profession. So, what sent the Schwartzes down this path?
The way their father, Lee Schwartz, a business consultant to manufacturing companies, tells the story, the brothers from Palisades Charter High School focused on making the pros as soon as they realized their talent. Geoff, who stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 340 pounds, starred at the University of Oregon, where he studied political science. Mitchell — 6-foot-5, 320 pounds — was an American studies major at the University of California, Berkeley. As for life after football, Geoff plans a broadcasting career, and Mitchell would like to teach history.
This particular game was a special one for the Schwartz brothers. Beforehand, Geoff told the Kansas City Star, “It’s exciting, you know? When [Mitchell] first came in the NFL, it was something I was looking forward to ... because I like watching him play. It’s really neat, especially two brothers, especially us being Jewish, it’s never happened before.”
The night before the game, the Schwartz brothers, their father and their mother, Olivia Goodkin, got together at the famous Kansas City restaurant Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue.
Game day itself brought a stadium packed with red-wearing, Midwestern-nice Chiefs fans intermixed with the visiting orange-clad quixotic-masochistic Browns backers. Lee and Olivia wore half-and-half shirts split down the middle.
As expected, the favored and unbeaten Chiefs defeated the then-unbeaten Browns 23-17. Mitchell started for the Browns and played throughout the game. Although Geoff did not start, he appeared in clutch situations and was on the field during both Kansas City touchdowns. After the game, they took photos together at an on-field ceremony honoring the brothers.
Any observer unsure about the cosmic significance of the occasion needed only to look to the stadium’s Jumbotron, where announcements and other videos are often projected during sporting events. On this day, a local teacher was honored on the big screen, along with a randomly selected prize-winning fan. Both were named “Schwartz.”
For those of us who see signs in the working of the universe, this seemed to qualify.