Winter had finally reared its ugly head on a cold, dark Tuesday night in Kansas City. Daylight saving time had passed, and the streets were mostly quiet as people were bundled up inside — adjusting to the dreary weather.
Down in the Crossroads, though, inside a quiet but brightly lit local restaurant that illuminated the otherwise dark and tucked-away side street, Kansas City Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz spent hours entertaining an intimate group of Chiefs fans — who came and went as they pleased.
They talked football, ate and even went pickle-for-pickle in an impromptu pickle eating contest. Schwartz didn’t shy from any question, and offered generous, thoughtful answers on any topic — whether it was about his favorite restaurant in Kansas City, the recent relocation of the Chiefs-Rams game from Mexico City to Los Angeles, or why the Chiefs would opt to score so quickly to tie the game against the New England Patriots in Week 6, giving Tom Brady three minutes to respond.
No... this wasn’t your typical NFL meet-and-greet event at a flashy venue with photographers, camera crews or a line out the door. Rather, it was laid back and relaxed — just like Schwartz himself. He liked it that way — just as he likes Kansas City itself.
The slow pace, nice people, good food and overall comfortable nature of the city immediately drew Schwartz in, and shortened the acclimation period when he moved to the city in 2016 — after three seasons with the Cleveland Browns.
One fan acknowledged this, commenting on Schwartz’s evident liking for his relatively new reserved, Midwestern lifestyle — assuming it had only really blossomed since Schwartz came to Kansas City.
“Nah, I’d like to think I’ve always been this way,” Schwartz said.
And he has always been this way — even as a kid growing up in Pacific Palisades, California, which has helped him thrive in one of the league’s most unforgiving positions: offensive lineman.
It’s a role that requires every bit of who Schwartz is: non-flashy, protective, smart and intuitive — especially this year, as he aims to protect one of the league’s most revered and intriguing quarterbacks: first-year starter Patrick Mahomes.
“Do you ever just look at his throws and think, ‘Wow?’’ asked one fan.
“I usually don’t see it until later when we go back and watch tape,” Schwartz admitted. “In the moment, I’m too focused on making sure no one gets to him. I’m just doing my job.”
It’s a job he does extremely well. Just look at the way he’s performed against Denver’s Von Miller — one of the league’s most elite and dangerous pass rushers.
That job will be an even bigger one on Monday night, as the 9-1 Chiefs head to Schwartz’s home state of California to take on the 9-1 Los Angeles Rams — in a game that’s being considered as a Super Bowl preview.
The Chiefs go into Week 11 coming off a 26-14 home win over the Arizona Cardinals. While the Chiefs won, it was the first game since Week 1 where Mahomes had thrown for less than 300 yards — and the five sacks allowed by the offensive line was a new season high.
At practice last week, Schwartz admitted that they didn’t do a good job of keeping Mahomes clean and protected against the Cardinals, saying he knows they need to do better — and will have a good challenge (and opportunity to improve) against the Rams on Monday.
But despite the challenge — and all the national attention — Schwartz sees this game the same as any other. As one of the veterans in the locker room, he said his message to the team after that hard-fought win over the Cardinals was simple:
“Just keep playing.”