“Sure, little guy,” he smiled. I couldn’t exactly see him smile, but I could hear it in his voice.
“What’s your name?” I asked, hopeful that his seemingly benign voice wasn’t some ogre trick to lure me close enough to bake me into a pie.
“Kurt Schumacher, Ohio State,” he replied. He stood a little straighter when he said this. He spoke like he was talking to a coach or a scout.
Over the next several weeks, I sat in the stands watching practice and bringing Kurt water at the end of the day. And over this period, I got to know Kurt as well as the disparities in our ages, and his limited time, allowed. Far from being an ogre, he acted with a kind of hometown dignity and natural respect that fired a passion in me for football that I have never outgrown. I began to suspect, through knowing Kurt, that in seeking excellence in big things, it would be necessary first, last and always to pay attention to the little things as well. And that lesson was what football was all about.
Kurt Schumacher played left tackle for Woody Hayes as a two year starter and twice an All-American. He played in two Rose Bowls, winning both in his junior and senior year. He was selected by the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the 1975 NFL Draft with the twelfth overall pick which had been acquired from the New York Jets. He played for about five years for the Saints, the 49ers and Tampa Bay, his career cut short by a knee injury that today would be rehabilitated through surgery.
These are the least important things that you need to know about Kurt.
More important is that he loved Ohio and married his high-school sweetheart who sat in the stands watching practice with the water boys. He graduated from college, with a major in mathematics, even though it was apparent early in his college career that he was headed for the NFL. After his football career, he returned to Ohio, living in Lorain and Elyria and worked for the Cleveland Public School system at a time when Cleveland schools were struggling to stay afloat. He was a legend in Columbus as a part of what many consider the most dominant offensive line in the history of college football. He could have gone back to Ohio and done anything he chose. He chose to help out. That’s the way Kurt was.
Today, I still have the college helmet Kurt gave me, the one he played in the Rose Bowl with, the one he gave me when he graciously came to my house and had dinner with my family. Some of the plastic buckeyes, the ones they give you in Columbus for great play and which covered the helmet from front to back, have peeled off. But it’s still too big for my head. Over the years, unfortunately, I lost the football that Kurt had signed by every member of the 1975 All-Star team. But I’ve given the helmet to my son who at 8 was already an Ohio State fan. He barely knows who Peyton Manning is, but is convinced that Kurt Schumacher is the greatest player who ever lived.
He only wonders when he’ll meet an NFL-bound player that shows him kindness, treats him royally and teaches him about the little things that make men great.
And so do I.