There’s no `"I” in team … but there is one in porpoise.
Mitchell Schwartz learned that in third grade and will never make that mistake again.
“I almost had a perfect year in spelling,” said Schwartz, 30, All-Pro right tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs. “I missed one word: porpoise. I spelled it without the `'i’ so it was more like purpose. Still remember that.”
Perfect spelling is one thing. But last Sunday, Schwartz had to be spelled for the first time in his NFL career, and another unblemished string of success came to an end.
In the second quarter of the Chiefs’ game against the Tennessee Titans, Schwartz had to leave the game to have a knee injury checked on the sideline. It was the first time he missed a snap in his eight-year career.
The rest was history.
Schwartz, who grew up in Los Angeles and attended Palisades High, had accumulated 7,894 consecutive offensive snaps, the most by any active player in the league. He returned to play the entire second half.
“In the moment I was frustrated, but after that I haven’t been as heartbroken as I thought I might be,” Schwartz said Thursday during a break from preparations for Monday night’s game against the Chargers in Mexico City. “It’s a cool thing that lasted a while. I was proud of it. But I was happy enough I was able to come back in and finish the game.”
Schwartz learned from the best. He spent his first four NFL seasons in Cleveland, bookending the Browns’ offensive line with legendary left tackle Joe Thomas. That seven-time All-Pro retired in early 2018 with what’s believed to be the longest streak of consecutive snaps in league history, unofficially 10,363. The record books are a little fuzzy on the topic, because consecutive snaps weren’t always counted.
“I had a broken shoelace and missed one snap in my senior year at Cal,” Schwartz said. “But I didn’t really think about a streak until I got to Cleveland. I noticed Joe had his streak, and then I’m like, ‘That’s pretty cool.’ ”
The Browns designed a trick play for desperate situations at the end of games, where they would replace the entire offensive line with skill-position players who could handle the ball in one of those lateral-lateral-lateral situations. But Thomas, mindful of his streak, asked that he not be replaced for one of those. Schwartz lobbied for the same. So if the Browns would have run that play — they never did — the starting tackles would have stayed in the game.
“[Thomas] inspired me not only to be available every single play, but to try to do it at the level he did,” Schwartz said. “To be able to do it productively at that level, and never miss a snap, and make it look so cool and calm, that was the most impressive part.”
Similarly, the easygoing Schwartz performs his job with an uncommon fluidity and gracefulness — at least for a 6 foot, 5 inch, 320-pound man.
“I was more like a bull in the China shop, the way I played,” said Geoff Schwartz, 33, Mitchell’s older brother, who spent nine seasons as an NFL guard.
“There’s stuff he can process when pass rushers are coming toward him. Like when a guy is getting ready to make a certain move, a lot of guys can’t see that stuff. Mitch knows almost every rep what a guy’s going to do with him. I was never able to do that. I could never see what he sees.”
Of course, no one saw the abrupt end to the streak coming.
Said Mitchell Schwartz, hurt when a player rolled into him: “When you’ve got this streak going, it’s always kind of in the back of your mind that you, weirdly enough, want it to end on an injury and not something dumb like a broken shoelace or your helmet needs a new buckle. You want it to end a true way.
“In the moment, I felt frustration, because I got fallen into and I knew something was hurt. I got up and usually when one of those things happen, I’m able to get up and walk around and it hasn’t been too bad. I tried to walk it off and wasn’t able to. I kind of knew at that point it was probably over.”
Since, he’s heard some lofty praise.
“He’s a tough kid,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “Our trainers and he both worked together, and it allowed him to go back and play. Mitch is one of those guys who knows how to go about doing it, he’s been fortunate. The breaks have gone the right way. But you’ve also got to work hard, and work hard on your craft, know how to play the game. He does a great job with it.”
Hall of Fame tackle Jackie Slater, who played 20 seasons with the Rams, called the streak “a heck of an accomplishment.”
And that — for a kid who once misspelled porpoise — is quite the seal of approval.