Vahe Gregorian

Gridiron Chef Chief: Way of life makes Mitchell Schwartz special on field

Football, food and faith with Chiefs tackle Mitchell Schwartz

Kansas City Chiefs tackle Mitchell Schwartz has played 6,870 consecutive snaps going back to his days with the Cleveland Browns. Schwartz is also an accomplished cook and takes part in public demonstrations and fund raisers for local causes.
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Kansas City Chiefs tackle Mitchell Schwartz has played 6,870 consecutive snaps going back to his days with the Cleveland Browns. Schwartz is also an accomplished cook and takes part in public demonstrations and fund raisers for local causes.

Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz is an author and a self-styled chef, proud owner with wife Brooke of a dog (Cupcake) that has more than 100,000 Instagram followers and a humanitarian invested in charity with deep appreciation of his Jewish heritage.

In between speaking of the importance of emulsification and revealing that he really enjoys “the maintenance of cast iron” as he prepared to make potato latkes and Cupcake roamed at his recent event at the Jewish Community Center, Schwartz called cooking “a fun way to kind of share the culture and kind of get the conversation started about Judaism … Bridging the gap with food is always a fun thing.”

That extends both ways, he noted, as he considered line-mates who include a Catholic and a Mormon and have taken part in potluck meals: “It’s fun to learn about each other’s beliefs (and) peel back the layers.”

That’s a telling theme in the world according to Schwartz, a straight-A student in high school who at the University of California-Berkeley majored in American studies with an emphasis on human development and identity.

“It’s always been interesting to me how people develop,” he told the school’s website in 2011. “When people are born, it’s kind of a blank slate. But how do people come out so different? That’s obviously one of the mysteries of life. You see twins, and they’re very different but also very similar. That kind of stuff has always interested me — the psychology of the different types of things and why people do the things they do.”

Which bring us to the crucial way this all folds together for the most prolific offense in the NFL at the midpoint of the season.

Sure, who Schwartz is and what he does are separate and distinct.

Just the same, the intersection of football, family, faith and food — “all the important things in my life,” he said, as extolled in the book he co-authored with brother (and former Chief) Geoff, entitled, “Eat My Schwartz” — explains a lot about his persona on the field.

Not unrelated, what he likes to call games of the mind have a lot to do with why Pro Football Focus currently ranks Schwartz the best in the game at his position and the ninth-best tackle overall as the Chiefs prepare to play Sunday at Cleveland — where Schwartz began his career and an amazing streak of playing 6,870 straight snaps over 104 games.

Coach Andy Reid said Schwartz has “done a heck of a job being able to endure,” which goes hand in hand with calling him “one the smartest linemen I’ve ever been around.” (Which made me ask former lineman Reid if that notion was redundant: “Well, we don’t brag on that,” he said, smiling.)

In the case of Schwartz, it’s self-evident in so many ways in how he plays.

Consider his consciousness of the fact that a broader sense of team can push players harder than they might otherwise go — certainly a factor in how he and the other men doing the dirty work view protecting all quarterbacks and, now, the crown jewel, Patrick Mahomes.

Mahomes demonstrated his gratitude to Schwartz by handing him the game ball after the Chiefs closed out their victory in Denver on the occasion of Schwartz’s 100th straight start.

“That was really cool of him to do that for me,” Schwartz said. “That shows kind of his respect, I guess, would be the word.”

With good reason.

“If I whiff on a block, Pat gets killed,” Schwartz said. “There’s a different sort of responsibility when you have a guy’s health in your hands. … So it’s definitely a different kind of relationship, the whole protector kind of thing. It’s probably a little cliché but also true because you really are kind of protecting the well-being of the guy.”

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Even as injuries have plagued the line bookended by Schwartz and left tackle Eric Fisher, Mahomes has been sacked the second-fewest times in the NFL (tied with four others at 10) this season. Kareem Hunt is fourth in the league in rushing and the Chiefs lead the league with 13 carries of at least 10 yards running behind Schwartz on the right side of the line.

But it’s mind over matter in other ways for Schwartz, who was more interested in playing baseball than football until at least ninth grade in Pacific Palisades, Calif. That’s when he was enlisted to play quarterback before discovering “the fix was in” to make him an offensive lineman, as he said during a Q and A with 610 Sports Radio’s Bob Fescoe.

It took a while for him to embrace it. But at some point, the intellectual aspect of the game started appealing to him ... and his mother stopped worrying about him getting hurt and started fretting for the other kids.

As a pitcher, Schwartz had enjoyed the strategy of exploring a hitter and learning his strengths and weaknesses to set him up as the game went along. He came to feel that same kind of “chess match” in football, where his studied instincts now stand out even against the likes of Denver star Von Miller, whom Schwartz admires but has neutralized again and again.

Meanwhile, Schwartz now might be best-defined as the Iron Chef of the Gridiron: Soon after Cleveland chose him in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, it was impressed upon him that the best ability is durability and “being out there for your team.”

That was fortified by the incredible example of Cleveland’s Joe Thomas, the left tackle who played 10,363 snaps over 11 seasons despite numerous injuries that would have sidelined most mortals.

While Thomas had a style all his own, he was an inspiration to Schwartz, who emulates the work ethic and “the preparation and the calmness and the trust he had in himself.” Not to mention learning about angles and having a plan and “indicators to look for” in opponents.

From Thomas and other fellow linemen with the Browns, for whom Schwartz played until the Chiefs signed him as a free agent in 2016, Schwartz embraced the importance of stretching and flexibility.

“Just understanding how that helps you wiggle out of awkward positions, awkward piles,” he said. “Also, it’s healthy for the muscles.”

Also testament to his mindset, Schwartz doesn’t mind being asked about his streak because he’s not superstitious even as he allows that fortune has been “the most important key.” Citing his brother’s injuries, he said, “I’ve been lucky enough not to have a huge pile fall on my leg at an awkward angle and things of that nature.”

The streak is just part of what makes Schwartz who he is, just like his penchant for cooking that came to him after he stopped watching cartoons in favor of the Food Network.

Underscoring it all his is his fulfillment in being one of the few Jewish players in the NFL.

Earlier this week, Schwartz lamented the shooting deaths of 11 worshipers at a Pittsburgh synagogue, saying, “This one hits a little more close to home for me, being in the Jewish community. It’s just sad to see. It seems like these things are more prevalent these days.”

“It is cool that when people realize there’s something about you that’s a little different, and they get interested and want to talk about it,” he said, adding that writing the book made him reflect on what Judaism means to him. “Really, the main tenet is being a good person, doing unto others as you would like them to do unto you.”

All of which makes it easy to see the way his faith and passion for family, food and football all coalesce in the code he lives by.

“It’s a great feeling,” he said, “when you can do something awesome for other people.”

Vahe Gregorian

Vahe Gregorian is a Kansas City Star sports columnist.

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