Geoff and Mitchell Schwartz are the NFL’s most improbable pair of offensive linemen. They started their football careers late, not playing a down of organized football until they joined their low-key high school program. Despite all that, they wound up at top-tier college programs and became the first Jewish brothers in the league since 1923.
In Eat My Schwartz, Geoff and Mitch talk about the things that have made them the extraordinary people that they are: their close-knit and supportive family, their Jewish faith and traditions, their love of the game and drive for excellence and, last but not least, the food they love to eat, whether at home or on the road. Theirs is an inspiring story not just for every football fan but for everybody wanting to figure out what it takes for dreams to come trueand how to stay well-fed throughout the process.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle MITCH SCHWARTZ earned All-Pac 12 Conference and Academic All-Conference honors at Cal-Berkeley. He was drafted by the Browns in 2012 and played every single offensive down while on the team. He joined the Chiefs in 2016.
SETH KAUFMAN is the author of the acclaimed novels The King of Pain and Nuns with Guns. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, NewYorker.com and other publications.
Read an Excerpt
Eat My Schwartz
Our Story of NFL Football, Food, Family, and Faith
By Geoff Schwartz, Mitch Schwartz, Seth Kaufman
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Geoffrey Schwartz and Mitchell Schwartz
All rights reserved.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: IT ALL STARTS WITH A MEAL
It's Friday evening, December 19, 2003, the first night of Hanukah. At our house in West L.A. — the place my brother Mitch and I have called home our entire lives — that means a few things. For one, our uncle Fred and his family will be there and so will our friends the Weinsteins. Every year we go to the Weinsteins' house for a Passover seder and every year they come here to celebrate Hanukah, the Jewish holiday known as the Festival of Lights.
It also means Mitch and I are in the kitchen, doing what we've always done every year at this time since we were old enough to help: making our grandmother's recipe for potato latkes. Latkes are potato pancakes, a traditional dish for the holiday. And for us, two rather large high school kids who love to cook and eat, making them is a major operation. First we do the grunt work: peeling fifteen pounds of potatoes and soaking 'em in big pots of water so they don't brown. Then we get the other ingredients ready: the bag of onions, salt, eggs, and olive oil.
No doubt plenty of cooks toss their latke spuds in a blender. But we are operating on old-school methods. We get the box grater out and we shred all those potatoes by hand, trying our best not to cut our fingertips off in the process. And that's harder than it sounds, because we've got gargantuan hands. I'm a 6'6" senior. My "little" brother, Mitch, a freshman, is about 6'4". And when we grate each potato down to that final tiny morsel, we have to slow down and carefully press that last bit of potato through the shredder or risk a bloodbath.
When we're done with the prep work, which also involves squeezing out the excess water from the grated potatoes and shredding all the onions, too — a big chunk of onion can overpower our Jewish flapjacks — we mix everything together, fire up a couple of frying pans, heat the oven to 200 degrees to keep the early batches warm, and go into mass production.
When the Weinsteins show up — Joel, who works with our mother at an L.A. law firm, Deborah, and their twin sons Perry and Adam, who are little kids I've known since they were babies — I start to think about all the meals we've shared together and I wonder about next year. I'm going away to college and I've been weighing scholarship offers from some major football programs, the kind of teams that play Bowl games at the end of December. Who knows if I'll be back here for Hanukah, or any of the other holidays we share together? I'm not a super-sentimental guy, but I am passionate about gathering around the table, bonding and breaking bread with family and friends to eat great food. It's the most basic communal human ritual there is.
Our dad, Lee, puts out the hors d'oeuvres and gets everyone drinks. In the kitchen, the sizzling continues as Mitch and I take turns manning four frying pans full of latkes, calibrating each one for that optimal fried golden-brown look that says they are done. It's funny: some people look at cooking as work or a chore, and some people might think of football as play, but for us, it's sort of the opposite. Mitch and I are not the most artistic guys on the planet — we don't paint or draw or play music — but cooking has become a creative outlet for both of us, something we enjoy exploring and experimenting with. We love the improvisational element of cooking, and the social element, too. Food, which is so important to us as athletes — it fuels our work — provides the forum for us to create meals that look good and taste fantastic. As fun as football is, as much as we love "playing," it definitely can be hard work.
By the time we join the others, my uncle Fred, aunt Brenda, and their twins, my super-cute three-year-old cousins Amanda and Heather, have arrived. Our conversations are wide ranging. L.A. is recovering from a big media circus around the indictment of Michael Jackson on charges that just make everyone shake their heads in disbelief and horror. My uncle asks if we heard about Ben Roethlisberger, a junior at Miami of Ohio, ending his college career with a superb game against Louisville. "He threw four touchdowns in the first half and had a thirty-five to seven lead in the second quarter. Now he says he's going pro."
Joel and Deborah ask about the college recruitment process. Which colleges am I interested in? Which have I visited? What do I want to study? I have this idea that I'm interested in eventually being a lawyer, like my mom and Joel. So I'm thinking about studying history, which seems like a relevant field of study for a lawyer since there's a lot of reading and analyzing facts. I mention the names of a few schools that have offered me scholarships.
Joel asks my parents what they think.
"It's Geoffrey's decision," my dad says. "He's worked his tail off on the field and in school. And he's the one who is going to have to do the work."
My mom laughs. "I didn't believe Lee when he told me scholarships were a possibility. But it's happened. And now Lee and Geoff say it will happen for Mitchell, too."
"Geoff and Mitch have the size and athleticism," my dad says. "But I'm most proud of their work ethic and perseverance. They both had a big learning curve."
It's true. My brother's size and physique make him even more suited to the offensive line than I am. He's come on some of the college tours and we joke that we can practically see the recruiters making mental notes to send Mitch letters as soon as possible.
Adam and Perry ask when we are going to start the candle ceremony. For eight nights in a row, we light a candle called the "shamash" and then use that candle to ignite one candle for each night of the holiday. So on the first night we have two candles burning and on the eighth night we have nine. We do this to celebrate and give thanks for a miracle from the time around 174 B.C. when the Maccabees, Jewish warriors who faced seemingly insurmountable odds, defeated the massive forces of Antiochus, the murderous leader of Syria, and then retook the Temple in Jerusalem. There, they found a small jar containing only enough olive oil to light a menorah for a single day. But instead of going out, the oil burned for eight more days until new supplies arrived. It was a miracle, and a sign that God was looking out for the Jews.
As we light the candles we say a few prayers in Hebrew. Many families sing songs, like "Rock of Ages," but we Schwartzes don't have the greatest voices, so we opt to protect our guests' eardrums.
We head to the dinner table. My mom lights the Sabbath candles and we chant the blessing over the bread. And then it is time to eat. Mitch and I carry out the stacks of pancakes; the table is outfitted with bowls of sour cream, applesauce, and sugar — the condiments that we love to slather on each latke. Like the perfect hamburger, everyone has his or her own vision of what constitutes the perfect latke. Some believe fried onions and sour cream are the perfect combination. Others indulge in seemingly bizarre pairings of sour cream and applesauce. In that vein, Mitch is a proponent of sour cream with a little sprinkling of sugar, which he says is the perfect way to achieve maximum sensory overload: you get the salt, the potatoes, you get the oil and the fat, the sour cream gives you a little tartness, and the sugar gives you a little sweetness. Me? I'm a straight sour cream man.
"When was your first varsity high school game?" Joel asks.
I'm pretty sure he knows the answer. "Last year," I say.
He shakes his head in disbelief. "And they're offering you full scholarships?"
"A miracle," my uncle says. "But it's the season for miracles."
Everybody laughs.CHAPTER 2
HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL
You've probably seen pictures of the high school Mitch and I attended. Set on eleven acres and located in a canyon between the Santa Monica Bay and the Santa Monica Mountains, Palisades Charter High School is sort of a fantasy American high school come to life. It's also not far from Hollywood. That proximity has made it the ideal setting for a ton of blockbuster movies, including Freaky Friday, Old School, and even the first Stephen King movie, Carrie. And if you haven't seen those movies, there's a good chance you've seen our school on TV. It's the high school setting for the kids in Modern Family.
In real life, the combination of a great L.A. location and the fact that it is a strong school academically means that it has attracted a who's who of Hollywood alumni in the fifty-odd years since it opened its doors. J. J. Abrams of Lost and Star Trek fame, will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas, and that party goofball Redfoo of LMFAO — aka Stefan Gordy, the son of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy — are some of the more recent celebrities who went there. There were other pretty faces that attended besides mine: Christie Brinkley, an early supermodel, was a member of the class of '72.
Despite those big names, with nearly three thousand kids, most of whom are selected by lottery and bused from all over L.A., Pali, as all the kids call it, is hardly Beverly Hills High or the Harvard-Westlake School in terms of the city's privileged, big money institutions. To me, it was a great mix, with a real cross-section of kids you find in L.A. In that way, it was familiar to me. After preschool, my parents had always sent us to public schools where the student body was diverse: Chicano kids, African American kids, Asian kids, even Jews like me. Growing up where we did, in a wealthy part of L.A., a lot of neighborhood kids were sent to private schools, but I'm glad I went where I went. I think it helped reinforce some very basic life lessons, number one being: people are just people.
As far as sports at Pali High goes, NBA stars Steve Kerr and Kiki Vandeweghe played hoops for the Pali Dolphins. But very few football players have cracked the NFL. To my knowledge, only QB Jay Schroeder, who played for the Redskins, Raiders, Bengals, and Cardinals, made it to the big time.
And that's interesting, because my first year there, when I was playing JV football, the school was a real football factory. Seven guys on the varsity team got Division 1 scholarships. By the time I made varsity the next year — go ahead, make a joke about me bringing down the team — the talent level had plummeted, no doubt because the coach who had helped Pali become a local powerhouse left the program.
But in ninth grade, I was totally thrilled to be in high school and have the chance to play three sports. Unlike a lot of my peers in the NFL — 60 to 70 percent of pro players first started playing youth football between the ages of five to fifteen, according to the player's union — I didn't play on a Pop Warner team.
I was a football fan, of course — I grew up attending every UCLA home game with my parents — but in terms of offensive and defensive line skills, I arrived with zero experience.
There were two reasons for this. The main one, when I was twelve, was that football would have been too time consuming. That year, I had to study Hebrew and have weekly Bar Mitzvah lessons. The second reason was that even if I had managed to convince my parents that I could handle school, study Hebrew, and play baseball and basketball, I was over the weight limit for Pop Warner football.
Going out for high school football was a slightly sensitive issue in my family. For one thing, my mom, who answers to both Olivia and Livie, worried that she'd be a bad Jewish mother if she let me play. Initially, she was concerned about Mitch and me getting injured. Although this is what she tells her friends now: "I started out worrying that they were going to get hurt — but then I realized it was the other players I should be worrying about. They were like trucks hitting small cars. Gradually I started to kind of feel like maybe this was their destiny."
For my dad, Lee, who grew up in Santa Rosa in Northern California and was a huge 49ers fan as a kid, the issue of high school football had been more painful. When it was time to start freshman year, his mother, like thousands of Jewish moms before and after her, had said, "No, Lee, you can't play football."
When my dad went to his first gym class, the gym teacher, who was also the football coach, walked over to where my dad was sitting and said in front of the entire class, "Hey, Schwartz, are you coming out for football this year?"
There was no way my dad was going to tell him the humiliating truth — that his mom wouldn't let him — so he said, "No. I'm going to concentrate on baseball and basketball."
"What a wimp," said the coach in front of the whole class.
We all laugh about that story now, especially since, ironically, the coach himself was Jewish, and was certainly in a position to understand that there is no higher authority than a Jewish mother.
Not that my mom is the stereotypical kvelling, smothering, Yiddish-spouting, loving-but-guilt-tripping mother from a Woody Allen movie. A lawyer who kept her own name when she got married, she's all about independence, encouragement, and living life to the fullest. I mention that she kept her maiden name only because, according to family legend, that is something that confused me as a little kid. I didn't know that most married women took their husband's names. When I was about five I discovered that the kid next door had parents with the same last name. I came home completely shocked. My mom still laughs about it.
But now that I think about it, there were little lessons about family and independence buried in that humorous event. I'm not sure if my five-year-old self understood this at the time, but this name thing with my mom was proof in a way that there are many different kinds of families, and that you can be very much part of a family and still be yourself.
Of course, I was lucky to have the full support of my parents when it came to playing football. They both loved the game and were the ones who bought our annual season tickets to UCLA games at the Rose Bowl.
I was also lucky — genetically blessed, really — to be bigger than pretty much everyone. I was 6'4" in ninth grade. I like to joke that my size comes from a childhood that included an excess of matzo ball soup, latkes, and tons of white rice. But of course my brother's similar physique suggests that genetics had plenty to do with it.
Anyway, every high school football team wants that kind of size. You see big guys all the time in America. I suppose you could say we have become a super-sized nation. But many big men lack muscle, cardiovascular strength, and coordination. Thanks to my love for baseball and basketball, I could move, I had balance, I was athletic.
I entered ninth grade fully expecting to play football. In fact, at the end of eighth grade I filled out a form saying I wanted to play. But being a bit clueless about things, and focused on baseball, I didn't even realize that training for high school football started with summer drills. So when I showed up for school, a similar scenario to the one my dad experienced played out: my math teacher was the JV coach and he took one look at me and said, "Are you planning on playing football?"
Of course I said yes. But there was a steep learning curve for me; I had missed the whole preseason and my body, though fit for baseball, was hardly ready to do battle on the football field. So I started playing with the JV squad and I made it into about two plays the entire season.
Ninth grade was pretty crazy. Not only did I play high school football, basketball, and baseball, but I still attended L.A.'s Hebrew High School once a week. After a while, I asked my mom to let me give it up — there are just so many hours in the day.
Don't get me wrong. I'm proud of being Jewish. I think that attending a Jewish nursery school and taking years of Hebrew lessons helped me develop into the person I am today. Learning to read a totally alien language like Hebrew was cool, and it took discipline and focus. Plus I've always thought that discussing Bible stories is kind of like morality or philosophy classes for kids. You learn about right and wrong, about justice and injustice. I like how Judaism focuses on the positive. You do things not out of fear of something bad happening to you, but because you want to do good for its own sake.
But there's a joke that Hebrew school has wrecked more than a few careers of young Jewish athletes, and after becoming a Bar Mitzvah — the ancient Jewish ceremony when thirteen-year-old boys embrace adulthood — I stayed active in my synagogue for two years, attending Hebrew High. But while religion is a part of my family's life, it's not the be all and end all. When I got to high school and the work and sports commitments piled up, I asked my mom if I could just dial it back a little. She said if I got straight A's I could move on. There was only one thing to do: I got straight A's.
Excerpted from Eat My Schwartz by Geoff Schwartz, Mitch Schwartz, Seth Kaufman. Copyright © 2016 Geoffrey Schwartz and Mitchell Schwartz. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of ContentsIntroduction
Chapter One: Friday Night Lights: It All Starts With A Meal
Chapter Two: High School Confidential
Chapter Three: The Quarterback Sneak
Chapter Four: Double Majors
Chapter Five: The Chosen Ones: Getting Drafted
Chapter Seven: Rookies & Religion
Chapter Eight: My Brother’s Keeper
Chapter Nine: Raising Arizona & Mastering the Body
Chapter Ten: The Brunch of Infamy
Chapter Eleven: Getting Seasoned
Chapter Twelve: THE Season STREAK: Staying in Shape and Decompressing
Chapter Thirteen: Getting Better (Sort of) All the Time
Chapter Fifteen: TWO MINUTE DRILLS – Quick Takes on Life in the NFL
Chapter Sixteen: Dinner With The Schwartzes