The only Jewish siblings in the NFL take each other on for the first time on Sunday.
It’s been 90 years since two brothers who remember each other’s bar mitzvahs have played on the same NFL field. And never has such a pair played against one another. Until Sunday– when Geoffrey Schwartz, an offensive linesman for the Kansas City Chiefs takes the field against his younger brother Mitchell Schwartz, an offensive linesman for the Cleveland Browns.
It is enough to make parents Olivia Goodkin and Lee Schwartz start reaching for the Maalox. “It’s a good thing they won’t be on the field at the same time or we might need a straight jacket [to contain all the nerves],” jokes Lee.
The last time two Jewish brothers played in the NFL was back in 1923. Arnold and Ralph Horween, siblings from Illinois, were teammates on the Chicago Cardinals. (They also changed their name to McMahon while playing at Harvard so their Jewish mother wouldn’t find out they were playing and flip out, says Bob Wechsler, the current research director of Jewish Major Leaguers and author of “Day by Day in Jewish Sports History.”)
“For those of us fascinated with everything to do with Jews and sports, it’s a great story,” says Wechsler.
Together, Geoffrey, a University of Oregon alum, and Mitchell, a Berkeley graduate, make up thirty percent of the total population of Jews currently playing in the NFL. Yet Jewish women aren’t lining the fences waiting to get their autographs, they say.
“There aren’t a lot of groupies for offensive linesmen,” Geoff laughs.
“They’re probably at doctor’s offices instead,” Mitchell jokes.
Despite the stereotypes, it is not nervous Jewish mothers that keep Jewish players out of the NFL, analysts say. More likely, it’s a size issue, claims Les Levine, host of the popular nightly Ohio television show More Sports & Les Levine. “These two kids, they’re big boys. You don’t see that very often [in the Jewish population],” he says. “Other sports tend to be more popular with Jewish kids, like soccer and baseball.”
Though there are tall genes in the Schwartz family, Geoff credits an excess of matzah ball soup and latkes for the brothers’ gargantuan size (6 foot 6 and 6 foot 5 respectively). “Well, it had to be something,” he says. “And we ate a lot of latkes growing up.”
Last year for the team’s Christmas party, Mitchell brought the Schwartz family latke recipe with him, and spent most of the time frying up pounds of pre-shredded potatoes. “Most people had no idea what they were, but they liked them,” he says. His next mission: Taking his teammates to a Jewish deli. “I’m trying to show them how good our food is,” he explains.
Olivia for her part, still sometimes wishes her boys had taken up a less violent sport, like, say, golf. But when the brothers started getting recruitment letters from college football coaches—a mere three years after learning to play the game at Pacific Palisades Charter High School in California – Goodkin changed her tune a bit. “They’re athletic. They’re big. They’re good at the game and they wanted to play,” she says. “I started to kind of feel like maybe this was their destiny.”
As offensive linemen, the two brothers won’t actually be on the field at the same time – but that isn’t limiting their competitiveness.
“Well, obviously I want to win, and I know he wants to win,” says Geoff. “The only thing I’m not sure of is what to do if he gives up a play. Do I cheer because we did well – or sulk because my brother didn’t do well?”
The parents are having a harder time. “We’re going to wear a special t-shirt,” Lee says. “We’ve bought two Cleveland and two Kansas City t-shirts. They’ll be cut down the middle and then sewn together. Schwartz will be placed on the back of each t-shirt, half in Kansas City colors, and the other half in Cleveland colors.”
And though they’ll be sitting on the Kansas City side (“They offered better seats,” Lee explains) they insist they’re not choosing sides. “We’re simply rooting for the boys to play well,” he says.