Kurt Schulz has conquered a lot of long odds over his 45 years.
Statistics will tell you he’s the one in 16 of his former Eisenhower High Cadets’ teammates to play football in college, which he did at Eastern Washington University from 1987 to 1991.
A longer long shot was his becoming a professional football player in the NFL as just 1 in 50 college players get drafted. The Buffalo Bills took Schulz in the spring of 1992 in the seventh round and 165th overall.Taking that quest one step further and to play in, and even win a Super Bowl must have true astronomical odds because repeated searches came up empty, like Schulz did in his two times as part of the Bills’ four straight trips to the championship.
While Schulz and former Eastern coach Paul Wulff, now an offensive assistant with the San Francisco 49ers, are ring-less, another ex-Eagle, Ed Simmons, earned two Super Bowl titles in his 11-year NFL career with Washington.
But just getting there seemed to be OK for Schulz. He was inactive in 1993 when Buffalo suffered a 52-17 loss to Dallas at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The Bills returned the following year in Atlanta, a 30-13 loss, again to Dallas. Schulz made a touchdown-saving tackle on the game’s opening kickoff.
“It’s definitely a big event, obviously,” Schulz said from Buffalo this past Monday.
Schulz thinks the fact that he went to two Super Bowls in his first years in the league that the bigness might have been lost for him. “It was harder for me to enjoy it,” Schulz said. “Certainly it was a big party, it was a lot of fun.”
With two weeks before their last game and the big game, Schulz said, “There was time to enjoy it.” He likened some of the hoopla to that of being on Monday Night Football at the time. “Everyone gets jacked up for that.”
While the Super Bowl is the top of the mountain, “At the end of the day it’s still football; it’s still just a football game,” Schulz said. “The intensity is higher.”
That his team will forever be remembered for its inability to notch a win has got to be bittersweet for the Wenatchee-born and Yakima-raised Schulz.
“We had a great nucleus of players, just phenomenal athletes,” he said. “I can’t imagine there ever being a team like that again, there were so many talented players on that team.” Schulz teammates included future hall of famers, Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, James Lofton and Bruce Smith, among others.
In today’s game it’s more difficult to stock a team with what Schulz called “superior athletes.”
There’s more parity in the NFL and better coaching, Schulz said. “We certainly had a phenomenal cast of athletes,” of which Schulz credited general manager Bill Polian, a great football mind. “We lost some of that when he left.”
Buffalo has indeed struggled since that magical time with their last playoff appearance coming in a 1999 loss to Tennessee and their last win in 1995 in a wild card game. “I think we do have the athletes,” Schulz said. “It’s just a matter of motivating the players.”
That’s something Schulz thinks comes as second nature to the coach on the losing end of last Saturday’s 34-31 Baltimore win over San Francisco.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of Jim Harbaugh,” Schulz said of the former NFL quarterback, turned coach. Schulz faced Harbaugh for years. “When I was in Detroit I spent a training camp with him,” Schulz said.
The two did some offseason training and Schulz said, “I just really like him as a person.”
“He can really get his players motivated,” Schulz said. “And if there’s one thing that’s the differentiating factor, aside from the Xs and Os of calling a play or time management of the clock, it’s just the ability to motivate your players.”
Every team has great players, Schulz said. “It’s just getting them to buy in and you know what, ‘I’ll run through a brick wall for you,’ mindset.
Harbaugh has the ability to “eke out the passion,” and “You want to win for him,” Schulz said. “I think he’s going to be a perennial winner.”
One thing Schulz didn’t realize was that Wulff was part of the 49ers’ coaching staff. It simply wasn’t part of his local news cycle in Buffalo where he’ll soon celebrate 10 years with Merrill Lynch and lives with his wife and two teenage children. “I’m fortunate to have found something I really like outside of football,” Schulz said.
Life after Schulz’s 10-year NFL career – eight years with Buffalo and two with Detroit – has been good. He does not miss the game of football, but he does the competition so he’s “a weekend warrior,” who plays one of his first-loves in sport, soccer. “I grew up playing soccer and it’s been my sport for years.”
“I get my fix with the ‘other’ football,” Schulz said.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.