Chiefs and Browns will pit Schwartz brother against Schwartz brother for the first time
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The second floor became their personal octagon. The wrestling match would usually start on Mom and Dad’s bed, and boys being boys, goodness knows where it would end. Or when.
“And they made so much noise, especially when they hit the floor, I always thought, ‘My God, they’re going to come through the ceiling,'” Olivia Goodkin says, laughing. “And sure enough, the ceiling fan dropped.”
Geoff Schwartz was 13 or 14; little brother Mitchell was 10 or 11. The pair were cut like a couple of Kodiak brown bears, so when they hit the fan, they really — ahem — hit the fan. One scuffle got so intense that the restraints holding up the ceiling fan in the living room directly below them completely gave way.
“After that,” says Geoff, now an offensive lineman with the resurgent Kansas City Chiefs, “there was no more playing in the house.”
“I remember my brother saying, ‘That’s like 500 pounds of nephew,'” says Olivia, matriarch of the Flying Schwartz Brothers. “And now it’s like 660 pounds.”
Now? Now it’s history, too.
You want trivia? Oh, we’ve got trivia, kids. When the Chiefs meet the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, it’s believed to be the first time in which two brothers of Jewish faith will compete against one another in an NFL game.
Last year, when Mitchell was drafted to play offensive tackle for the Browns, the Schwartzes became the first Jewish brothers to be playing in the league at the same time since the Horweens, Ralph and Arnold, back in 1923. But the Horweens were teammates, members of the old Racine/Chicago Cardinals. This weekend, Lee Schwartz and Olivia Goodkin’s boys will be on opposite sidelines, in clashing colors.
“For my brother and I, when we’re in it, now, I don’t think it’s as big of a deal,” Geoff tells FOXSportsKansasCity.com. “But I know that for a lot of people in the Jewish community, they’ve told me what it means to them and how cool it is, and stuff like that. For us, being in the moment, it doesn’t seem as big. But I think when we’re done playing, we’ll look back on it, and it’ll be big for us.”
Of course, it’s always been big for them. Geoff, 27, came into the world at 9 pounds, 7 ounces. Mitchell, 24, was 8 pounds, 12 ounces.
“They were at the 95th percentile when they were born,” Lee Schwartz says, “and they never dropped below that their entire life.”
The family had a service that brought meat, fish and poultry in bulk that they stored via an industrial-size freezer in the garage. They would order six months’ worth, “and when the boys were living at home,” Lee says, “it was (gone) in three months.”
Arnold Horween played at 205 pounds; Ralph was 200.
Geoff checks in at 331; Mitchell, at 318.
“Those were giants,” chuckles Skip Horween, Arnold’s grandson and president of the family business — the Chicago-based Horween Leather Company, suppliers of the raw material used in both the official NFL and NBA game balls. “That was something you saw at the fair. Nobody was that big.
“And the other thing that’s amazing is that there are guys that big and they can move. These aren’t like blocks of granite that you can just put in the way of other things.”
Skip’s grandpa could move, back in the salad days. Arnie Horween was an All-American halfback, fullback and center for Harvard, one of the key cogs of the Crimson team that won the 1920 Rose Bowl. He would go on to play fullback, tailback and quarterback with the Cardinals, along with his brother, but with a caveat: So as not to offend their mother — pro football was viewed as a dishonorable career path in some circles — they suited up under a fake surname: McMahon.
“It’s great. You think about it, there are so few people that achieve that level of skill in any sport,” Skip says of Sunday’s Schwartz Bowl I. “So to have brothers (in the NFL) and then playing against one another, I applaud them.”
“He would love it,” Skip says. “He was just a huge football fan. He loved everything about the game. And was a great student of the game. He’s been gone for quite a while, but it all fascinated him right up until the end of his life.”
The Schwartzes are a fascinating bunch. Geoff wore a size 14 shoe as a junior at Palisades (Calif.) Charter School, was a varsity basketball player as a sophomore, and one of the best pitchers on campus, a right-hander with wicked stuff.
“They looked like they could throw the ball through a brick wall, but they were not fireballers — they were control, finesse pitchers,” says Kelly Loftus, who was an assistant coach on the Palisades football staff and also headed up the baseball program. “(Hitters) would get intimidated; from the batter’s box, that guy on the pitcher’s mound looks 7 feet tall. But they had great control.”
When Geoff practiced, Mitchell would watch. Heading into high school, it was clear that the baby bro was going to be as huge, if not bigger, than the older one. But Mitchell was a baseball guy who didn’t see a future in football. That is, until Loftus made him a deal.
“We talked him into going out for football as a quarterback,” his former coach says now. “And we promised him he could throw the ball once or twice a game. But he had to learn to play a little tackle (too).”
Before long, Mitchell saw there was a future, and it was sweet, but it was on the line. He moved to tackle full-time, and never looked back.
“These guys were so good at whatever they picked up,” Loftus says. “I’d like to tell you that they were in the pros because of superior offensive line coaching skills, (but) these guys were destined for the pros, no matter what coaching they went through. Extra large. Extra smart. They had all the skills to go to that level of football anyway. They were going no matter who coached them. They were just that talented.”
That and giving. Loftus used to break down the boys’ footwork during private Sunday tutoring sessions at a local park; all he asked in return was for a cap from the college that wound up signing them. Geoff went to Oregon, Mitchell to California, and over the years, Loftus wound up with Ducks and Bears jerseys, hats, memorabilia, the works.
“They don’t forget,” Loftus says, “where they come from.”
They don’t forget their roots, either. Last week, Geoff visited a Jewish day school in Kansas City to address the kids about his career, his family and his faith. A short time later, Lee received this email, unsolicited:
“Well you should be one proud dad. Today Geoff visited the Jewish day school in KC. I just got a call from … raving about Geoff. … I want to tell you a couple of things they said about this morning. He took pictures of the program they presented for him and he stood and took pictures with everyone who wanted one. When he spoke he talked with no notes about character and what it means. They were blown away by what he had to say.
He toured the school with the head of school … and some others. In the history class he spoke about his favorite time in American history and why he loved it.
They gave him a kipa (traditional head cover) with his Hebrew name on it and his (Chiefs) number. And lastly he talked about … the importance of Judaism to his family. He said he takes a menorah with him on the road and lights the candles. … and says everyone is so excited about Geoff. Just thought you should hear about what he is doing since I am sure Geoff will not tell you how important today was to so many people.”
And Loftus tells this story, from Geoff’s graduation: A whack job in a fake Hitler mustache had somehow crashed their ceremony and began accosting two of the biggest dudes in caps and gowns — the oldest Schwartz brother and one of his African-American teammates.
So here’s this little guy, spouting the kind of racist, anti-Semitic garbage that sounded as if it came straight from the Illinois Nazis who were lampooned in the movie “The Blues Brothers.” Only this nut was serious, and Loftus thought one, or both, of his former players — who both looked incensed — might pound him into the ground like a tent spike.
Instead, Geoff restrained his friend.
“He said, ‘Look, we are going to graduate. Don’t let this idiot ruin your graduation,'” Loftus says. “He kept him from annihilating this kid and ruining this whole graduation for probably everybody. That’s just the type of character you’re dealing with.”
The Flying Schwartzes are close, or as close as Kodiak brown bears can be. They trained together last summer down in Arizona. Both boys are food junkies who love to cook; Geoff’s patented shrimp-and-pasta dish is a family delicacy.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Geoff says. “Because I’ve always told him — and this was the same way in college — ‘I’m rooting for Oregon but I want you to play well.’ So it’s kind of the same deal. Of course, I’d love for our defense to get after the Browns. So it’s kind of a weird situation for me.”
That goes double for their folks. This is virgin territory: When Oregon played Cal during Geoff’s senior year, Mitchell was redshirting and watched in street clothes.
So Olivia came up with a solution: A T-shirt that’s half Chiefs gold and half Cleveland brown, with Geoff’s “74” on the right sleeve and Mitchell’s “72” on the left, and “SCHWARTZ” across the back. From a distance, it looks a bit like a caramel brownie dipped in custard and ketchup, but it works.
“We really weren’t like fighting type of brothers,” Geoff says. “We might have yelled at each other. We had our disagreements. But I think we both respected each other (enough) to know that a fight would probably not be a good thing.”
And for that, Mom is eternally grateful.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.