It was coincidental, but totally appropriate, that NFL Network aired “Marty Schottenheimer: A Football Life” during the week the Chiefs clinched a playoff bid.
The profile of Schottenheimer, who guided the Chiefs to nine winning seasons, including seven playoff appearances, during 1989-98 aired Tuesday night on NFL Network. It will be replayed at 3 p.m. Wednesday and at 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Saturday.
The show chronicled the many triumphs and devastating postseason defeats that marked Schottenheimer’s 21 years as an NFL head coach.
Schottenheimer, who ranks fifth with 200 regular-season NFL wins, has often said his 10 seasons in Kansas City were his favorite.
And in a poignant moment when talking about his decision to resign as the Chiefs coach following a difficult 7-9 season in 1998, Schottenheimer made a tearful revelation.
“It was the biggest mistake I ever made in football,” he said of leaving the Chiefs.
But Schottenheimer, now 70, had few regrets about his career, even though he fell so excruciatingly short of winning a Super Bowl.
“Each given day that we played and lost, they played better than we did, and when it’s over, there are no re-dos,” he said during the show, surrounded with his family at his home on Lake Norman, outside Charlotte, N.C.
“Do I like it? Hell no, I don’t like it. But that’s what it us. and you know what? You learn how to deal with that kind of stuff because that’s what life is all about.”
The 60-minute show offers plenty of footage from Schottenheimer’s time in Kansas City, including his trademark pep talks right before the team took the field.
His recurring “There’s a gleam !” comes from the reflection that can be seen on the Vince Lombardi Trophy, which goes to the Super Bowl winner.
His mantra of “One play at a time ” came from Schottenheimer’s days as a player, when he whiffed on a tackle of Joe Namath, his western Pennsylvania buddy. Letting the missed tackle bother him affected Schottenheimer’s performance on the rest of a Jets scoring drive, and he vowed never to let that happen again.
And his definition of Martyball was expressed by former Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson: “Power football, that’s Martyball. Run it, and run it and run it again. Then, OK, we can throw a pass. But after that pass, run it, and run it again, and that’s Martyball, to wear you down. Marty once told me, when he’s dead and gone, he wants ‘Power’ on his tombstone.”
Schottenheimer, always the taskmaster and teacher, defined Martyball this way: “At the end of the day, Martyball is finding out what your players do best and do that. If running is what you do best, which is generally what we did best if the passing game was better than the running game, do that. That gives you a far greater chance of succeeding. it’s all about winning.”
Schottenheimer’s Cleveland Browns teams were victims of “The Drive” by John Elway in the 1986 AFC championship game and “The Fumble” by Earnest Byner in the 1987 AFC championship game; and the fans’ frustration led to threats against his family.
There was no such wrath in Kansas City, where fans celebrated the Chiefs’ revival in the ’90s, and the program depicts grown men in shorts and high stockings dancing the “Schottenheimer Polka.”
The arrival of Joe Montana and Marcus Allen in 1993 helped the Chiefs to the last two playoff wins the franchise has enjoyed. But they lost the 1993 AFC championship game at Buffalo, and that was followed by painful playoff losses by 13-3 Chiefs teams at home to Indianapolis in 1995, when Lin Elliott missed three field goals; and to Denver in 1997 when quarterback Elvis Grbac froze on a last-minute drive.
“If you go into that arena, there’s only going to be one who comes out happy,” Schottenheimer said. “We ended up being the unhappy one.”
Schottenheimer, “burned out,’ by his own admission, resigned with the Chiefs after the 1998 season that was marred by the Monday Night meltdown against Denver, and after one season at Washington, spent 2002-06 at San Diego, where he was NFL coach of the year following a 14-2 season.
But that playoff run was short-circuited by a boneheaded play by defensive back Marlon McCree, who intercepted a last-gasp, fourth-quarter pass by New England’s Tom Brady, and instead of falling to the ground, tried to run with the ball. McCree was stripped of the ball, and the Patriots recovered and capitalized with a game-winning touchdown.
Remarkably, NFL Films showed Schottenheimer before the game instructing his defensive backs to fall to the ground in such a situation.
That would be Schottenheimer’s last game as an NFL head coach. He lost a power struggle with general manager A.J. Smith and was let go despite the 14-2 season and returned to North Carolina, where he and his wife, Pat, enjoy boating, golfing and doting on their grandchildren.
As for as not achieving the gleam of a Super Bowl?
“The worst thing anybody can do is spend time worrying about something they missed out on,” said Schottenheimer, 5-13 in postseason games. “Disappointed sure, but I never let it consume me. It’s been a great journey. I’m very proud what we were able to do in our coaching career.”