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Married to Football

An NFL lifestyle has its benefits, but fans rarely hear about the tough decisions and sacrifices that players’ families are forced to make. Giants guard Geoff Schwartz, now on his fourth team in seven years, and his wife, Meridith, opened their home to give The MMQB a glimpse of their wedded blitz

PARAMUS, N.J. — Meet the Schwartzes, the 28-year-olds who moved into an ordinary brick-front colonial on this oak-lined street just five months ago. But Geoff has no ordinary job: he’s an offensive lineman for the New York Giants. Meridith, a petite blonde who radiates Southern charm, is a registered nurse who until very recently worked in Charlotte, her hometown. Geoff was on injured reserve for the first eight games of the season, recovering from a gruesome toe injury, but he’s almost back on the field and blocking for Eli Manning.

Most nights, the Schwartzes can be found cuddling on the couch with their 4-month-old son, Alex, a German Shepherd mix named Oslo, and Cotton Puffer, an outrageously fluffy cat. Meet the Schwartzes and you’ll see a beautiful, happy family who do ordinary things: grilling steaks on their deck, cheering on his beloved San Francisco Giants in the World Series, and dressing up as Fred and Wilma Flintstone for Halloween.

But theirs is no ordinary love story. It’s a bit, well, complicated. Geoff has been on four teams in seven years—the Panthers, Vikings, Chiefs and Giants. No matter how strong their love, nothing could have prepared them for the transient and stressful lifestyle of being NFL nomads. This is a side of football few fans ever see. It’s a modern-day love story that began in the summer of 2008, when …

MERIDITH: I was at this bar in Charlotte called the Buckhead Saloon, right under the Holiday Inn. A guy comes up to me and goes, “My name is Geoff. I play for the Panthers.” Nice pickup line. I say, “Yeah right. But whatever, if you really like me, you’ll take me on a date.”

GEOFF: I had just been drafted by the Panthers and actually lived at that Holiday Inn. I was only a practice-squad player, young and broke. I thought her having a car was a total plus. I guess you could call me a romantic.

MERIDITH: The first date went great. We went out a few more times. Then he’d call me and say, “I need to go to the grocery store, what are you doing?” I’d tell my friends, “This guy, he’s really nice and cute and makes me laugh. But he makes me drive him everywhere!” I did like him, and not just because he was an NFL player. That didn’t matter to me at all. I’m not really a sports fan. Football was his passion, yeah, but I liked Geoff Schwartz the person.

GEOFF: The more I got to know her, the more I wanted to spend time with her. By April, we got a small condo together. She’s a Charlotte girl, and I could see myself settling down there. I guess I was naive in thinking I’d have the fairy tale career and spend it all with one team.

Theirs is a modern-day love story. Geoff and Meridith survived as a couple despite a stressful, nomadic lifestyle fueled by one-year contracts in the NFL. They have a 4-month-old son, Alex, and split their time between New Jersey and North Carolina. (Courtesy photo)

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MERIDITH: I started to learn more about football, and attended some team functions. It’s tough to be accepted in the wives’ club when you’re only a girlfriend. A lot of the players were older, married with kids. We were 22. There’s certain things you don’t get invited to, and you’re generally not as accepted. But I wanted to get to know the other women, because I knew it was important to Geoff.

GEOFF: In 2010, my second season on the active roster, I bought a house. I saw it as an investment. It was affordable and in a good area. I figured we’d live there forever. I sold her on that life. I said, “We’re never going to leave Charlotte. I’m going to sign a long-term deal with the Panthers and this is where we’re going to settle.” I started every game and played really, really well that season. Things were going well with the team. It wasn’t like I was far off.

Then I got hurt. I needed hip surgery, and missed the entire 2011 season. So long, dream.

It was hard when Geoff got hurt, mainly because I saw how upset he was. He was frustrated, and there was nothing I could do to help him. I tried to be supportive, and I figured he’d get healthy and it’d all be OK. But even if he didn’t, even if that meant his NFL days were over, I knew he was smart and there would be other opportunities. It wasn’t like the end of the world.

I had a second hip surgery in December 2011, and after that season I became a free agent. I had a couple teams interested, but decided on Minnesota. Meridith was now my fiancée, but I knew she couldn’t come with me because she was in nursing school. Plus, I was only on a one-year deal. That meant I had no guarantees. But it was the best opportunity, professionally. But I couldn’t bring the cat or the dog, and no Meridith. It didn’t feel like home.

I stayed in Charlotte. I would go to classes all week, then fly in to Minnesota on Friday. I studied on the airplane, studied a little on Saturday, and would even study on Sundays during the game. I’d always leave right after the game because we had tests on Monday mornings. Geoff and I saw each other eight times over a four-month span.

When you go to a new team, you try to make new relationships. But when you’re on a one-year deal sometimes it’s like, What’s the point? I can work hard to make bonds, but then I’ll be gone. People look at you differently when you’re on a one-year-deal. They, too, don’t want to put in the effort. It was my first time changing teams, and I didn't know how to handle going into a new locker room.  

I was recovering from the hip surgery, so I couldn't practice right away. Then early in training camp, I got hurt again. This time, I needed hernia surgery. While I was hurt, I felt isolated from my teammates. And after that rough start, it was tough to assimilate to the locker room.

The other players, their wives and girlfriends lived there. Their husbands might have had four- or five-year deals. During the offseason they’d hang out together. So that’s a bond you don’t get to build. You know you’re not going to be there during the week, or in the offseason, or go to any of their events. They may include you to be polite, but you’re not one of them.  

I wasn’t playing as well as I thought I should. And I just didn’t like it in Minnesota. I was in a small apartment. It got dark for the night at like 4 o’clock. It snowed. It was cold. I wasn’t being a good fiancé, a good friend, a good anything. I shut everybody out. I was so depressed.

I was studying like crazy and also applying for jobs. I wanted to get a job in Charlotte. That’s where my life was: my family, my friends. I couldn’t factor Geoff into the plans, because he didn’t even know what he was doing once the season was over. He was lost.

I had no job security. I was worried about my career. What if this doesn’t work out?

He wasn’t involved in the wedding planning at all. He was so immersed in his hip surgery, and rehab, and lamenting how things weren’t the way he had hoped. I was having all the wedding meetings by myself. We’d fight about it. I was like, “You don’t even know that we have a string quartet!? Why are we even having this stupid wedding when you don’t even know what you’re going to enjoy?!”

Toe Jam Football

Geoff Schwartz dislocated a big toe in a preseason tilt against the Jets, giving him a lot of time to sit and think. He shares 10 thoughts about the injury with The MMQB, touching on everything from the moment of impact to the embarrassing nature of crutches. FULL STORY

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I had no idea what the cake was going to be. I had no idea what the dinner menu was. I wanted to be a part of the planning. I just couldn’t. We fought all the time.

We fought all the time. The season ended and we were just so far apart. We decided to break up. We kind of knew we would get back together, but we just needed a break.

We had been living together for close to four years before I left for Minnesota. Returning to Charlotte felt weird. We broke up the first weekend I was home, while I was watching a playoff football game, and she moved out of the house so we could have space. But I missed her a lot.

He had to build up his confidence again. That spring he went off to his offensive line camp in Arizona and I just needed some time to get rid of the resentment. We still loved each other, but we were physically and emotionally apart.

We had to rebuild the foundation of our relationship. What we had just wasn’t healthy. We had to learn to communicate with each other, learn to be involved in each other’s lives again.

We talked on the phone every day. I missed him a lot.

The first week of free agency in 2013 went by and I didn’t have anything going. Then Kansas City called. I went on a visit. I really didn’t have any other offers. I don’t know if they knew that, but Kansas City it was.

He told me, “I’m moving to Kansas City. If we’re going to make this work, we have to be together. You have to move to Kansas City.”

It was another one-year deal, but this time it felt different. I was healthy, she was done with school, and we went in with a different mindset. When I moved to Minnesota, I kind of went in blindly. I signed a lease on the first place I liked. I rented all my furniture. This time, I wanted to take my time to find a place that felt like home. I bought a mattress and a couch. I kept it simple, knowing it was only a one-year deal, but thought maybe we could stay there a while.

Kansas City has a really good wives’ club. Andy Reid’s wife, she’s fantastic. Tammy invites all the girls to her house, organizes volunteer opportunities and everybody gets to know each other. She created a community.

It was a one-year deal, but it felt much easier than Minnesota. I knew what to expect. It was a younger locker room, and I knew how to assimilate myself better. And because I was healthy, and had a real chance to play, I could be assertive in the O-Line room. I felt comfortable.

While the wives in Kansas City were more welcoming, I was still going home a lot to visit friends. You don’t feel alienated, but it’s... helpless. You always want to be a part of a culture. You want to be a part of the team, a part of the vibe of the city. When you have one-year deals, you can’t do that. I tried, though, and really got to like it toward the end.

I thought I’d be back there this season, but it didn’t work out. It was tough. I liked those guys there, and I wanted to set down roots with Meridith.

We had started making friends there—family friends, outside of football.

And then came the routine that now felt so familiar. As soon as the season was over, we moved back to our home in Charlotte. I had the shipping guys on alert. We lost in the playoffs on January 4. I called them on January 5. How many days can we get everything out? By January 8, we were gone.

Usually we move in summer, and you can’t fly a dog if it’s over 85 degrees on the tarmac. So we have a pet transportation company. It cost $1,200 for Oslo’s trip.

I have three boxes of stuff that’s been to all three places. I load my stuff up in my truck at the end of the season, and ship my stuff back home—blankets, pillows, kitchen stuff—then it just sits in the garage until I sign somewhere new.

I got a job at a Charlotte hospital and we planned the wedding for March, even though it would coincide with free agency. His third free agency in three years. A few days after the wedding, the Giants called. We postponed the honeymoon so he could go out and visit them.

Everything about the Giants organization felt like a good fit. And the deal was for four years. We could buy a house, with a yard and even start to look for schools.

When he signed, I took a deep breath … like … everything can be normal again? We can be a family? We had thought long and hard about having a baby in Kansas City, but wanted more stability. Baby Alex was born in July. I was supposed to return to work again in Charlotte in September. I had to tell them I wouldn’t be back because I’m spending half the year in New Jersey.

I keep telling her, if I play my deal out, I’ll be 32, so we still have the rest of our lives for her to be a nurse. It sounds awful but …

I could have kept the job in Charlotte. But I’d pay more for childcare and a nanny and flights than I’d even make in salary. To work 36 out of 48 hours, that’s a long time to be away from your baby, especially when he’s breastfeeding. If Geoff was there at night and could help me, it’d be different. But he’d have been in New Jersey. It’s bittersweet. I want to take care of my baby, but I also worked so hard for my career.

I hate that our moves are only dictated by me. It feels awful. She worked so hard for her bachelor’s degree, she got her RN, and now she can’t do anything about it. Because even though we have some stability, we can’t guarantee we know where we’re living next year, or when I’m done playing. We don’t have a permanent home, because we’ll still spend our offseasons in Charlotte. She’s wonderful because everything she wants to do is put on hold until I’m done playing.

I like living in New Jersey. And I love the Giants organization. Everything they do makes you feel like family. I kind of grew up in this atmosphere. When you’re 22, you’re the girlfriend. Then you become the fiancée and you’re a little more accepted. And then you become the wife and, finally, it’s like you’ve made it. I’ve kind of embraced the lifestyle and all that comes with football. It wasn’t easy. If we didn’t truly love each other, and if we weren’t committed to the hard work that goes into a relationship, we wouldn’t have made it.

Every couple has their differences and has to work through them. As weird as it sounds, being apart was a great thing for us because it taught us the ways we need to communicate better to make things work. It was a long and crazy journey to get here, but look at us now.

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