“Memories of Marty Ball”
The end came quickly..late Monday night at a hospice care center in Charlotte…sadly. Alzheimers, the one opponent he could not game plan for.
The end came quickly too as a longtime head coach in NFL-cruelly.
Marty Schottenheimer, the 21-year veteran head coach, leaves a lasting legacy in the National Football League as we reflect after his passing.
Is there a way to describe the old-school AFL-linebacker, who played nearly a decade for the Buffalo Bills and then finished up with the Steelers?
Intelligent. Fiery. Passionate. Compassionate. Dignified. Firebrand. So many words come flooding back.
So does his career record (200-126-1), all those accomplishments, but all those end of season disappointments.
I dealt with Schottenheimer, when he was the coach of the enemy (Chiefs) and when he was the coach of our team (Chargers.
I was aghast when struggling owner Alex Spanos hired the hated rival coach from the AFC-West team in Kansas City. And it was Alex who hired Schottenheimer, not his son Dean, after Dean had allowed the franchise to sink in Mission Bay, by letting go of the other top coach he once employed Bobby Ross.
Martyball’s philosophy. Simple. Run the damn ball. Play balls-out defense.
Schottenheimer took over a sagging Cleveland Browns team in the post-Brian Sipe era when age and injury wrecked the team. Here came Bernie Kosar and there was a (44-27) record on the Lakefront.
He went to Kansas City with Carl Peterson, and rebuilt the Chiefs, who were drawing 28,000-fans, yes 28.000 at Arrowhead Stadium. When they were done they were drawing 76,000-fans and you could not buy a ticket enroute to his (101-58) record. That duo saved Chiefs football.
There was a stop in Washington, that made no sense. Daniel Snyder kept interfering, Marty stopped listening, and went (8-3) at the end of his only season, then exited.
In San Diego he was gifted Drew Brees, then Philip Rivers arrived, then LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson and a bunch of street free agents who relished leadership they got from him, going (47-33). Horribly terminated after a (14-2) season on a team that looked built for the Super Bowl.
The history book will show however a failure after failure in the playoffs, a hard to imagine (5-13) postseason record. Upsets at Arrowhead when they were the top seed. Beatings on the road including a (17-0)…7-sacks Sunday afternoon loss to the Bolts.
Schottenheimer was haunted by bad breaks.
The “Drive”..John Elway’s length of the field drive in the mud in a last second Broncos win in Cleveland.
The “Fumble”…Ernest Byner, tough guy running back, fumbling at the one going in for a game sealing victory TD that turned into another bitter defeat to Denver.
In San Diego, the “Mistake”… on their way to a win against Bill Belichick and New England, Marlon McCree picks off a pass that would lock up the win,but running up the field, fumbles the ball. Tom Brady ties it, then wins it. Nate Kaeding misses a chip shot field goal and a win over the Patriots becomes a loss to the Patriots.
History will also show Schottenheimer, stubborn to the core, kept getting out coached in the playoffs when it came to schemes. What he ran in October-November-December, did not get it done in January in the playoffs.
And the record book also shows each of his relationships ended badly-sadly in struggles over player decisions with Art Modell in Cleveland, Carl Peterson in Kansas City, and then AJ Smith in San Diego.
How good was he? He won with throwing QBs like Rivers and Kosar. He won his heavy duty running backs like Kevin Mack-and-Byner, LT, and Christian Okoye. He did it with dominant defenses anchored by Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith and Junior Seau. He delivered playbooks and messages and won.
It’s odd, that Schottenheimer took part in one of the biggest games that helped the Chargers, one that killed his team.
On a cold November night in 1994, the Chargers went to Arrowhead, facing Martyball and 76,000 fans screaming the Tomahawk chant. A game of big hits, cheapshots and lots of toughness.
Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith played like Warriors, pounding Bolts QB-Stan Humphries into the artificial turf. Just before halftime, Thomas levelled Humphries with a blind side thunderous hit that was late. No flag. And as Humphries tried to get up, Smith kicked him. No flag. Humphries, still on the ground kicked back. No flag.
Schottenheimer came storming off the bench onto the field, almost to the hash marks, demanding the ejection of the Bolts QB. Stan Brock, the mountain of a man at right tackle came across the field and poked the coach in the chest Schottenheimer. It ignited flags everywhere.
Offsetting penalties everywhere.
I will never forget seconds later, at halftime, as the Chargers went up the sidelines to the tunnel, with a ton of abuse being directed at them, coach Bobby Ross ran up the tunnel shaking his fist at Schottenheimer and the Chiefs fans.
I don’t know what Ross told his players at halftime, but the Bolts came out in the second half, ran the ball down KC’s throat and won (14-13). That incident galvanized the team, electrified the city, and drove San Diego to the Super Bowl that year.
Schottenheimer fueled somebody else’s fire that night. A story never to forget…wrecking the KC playoff hopes, lighting the fire in San Diego.
And the Chiefs coach would never forget something I said on sports-talk radio…me saying the Chiefs colors were ‘Bloody Nose Red-and-Chicken Bleep Yellow’. He reminded me of that in a joking fashion after his introductory press conference. He knew who I was and picked me out.
Of course I reminded him, that was when he was the enemy and now he was on our side.
His press conferences were fun, full of philosophies. His experiences were exceptional. He always had time for stories.
There was always a gleam in his eye, passion in his voice speaking to his players, and an honesty-sincerity you don’t find from everybody you cross paths with. His phrases were catch words to live by and to play by.
“1-Day at a Time”…”1-Play at a Time”….”We-and-Us are very powerful”….”Play today so you have this memory to live with tomorow”.
You judge an NFL coach by wins and losses and accomplishments. You judge him too by the coaches that come off his tree. Think about who worked for him and what they became, Bill Cowher, Mike McCarthy, Tony Dungy, Bruce Arians.
Tears in his eyes..conviction in his voice…blunt honesty in his heart.
I think back to San Diego Chargers football. We were so lucky to have access like ‘Boss Ross’ and ‘Marty Ball’ on the Lightning Bolt sidelines.
The Chargers have never come close to what they once upon time had as Head Coaches, as people and as Leaders.
Marty Schottenheimer…gone..but never to be forgotten here.