Long before Mark Schlereth became a well-known sports broadcaster at ESPN and FOX Sports, he fought in the trenches as an offensive lineman of the then-Washington Redskins and the Denver Broncos during his 12-year NFL career.
Schlereth, the first Alaskan to play in the National Football League, earned the nickname “Stink” during his first few years in the pro football ranks.
Don’t let that fool you, though—Schlereth’s play on the gridiron didn’t stink at all.
In fact, Schlereth was a two-time Pro Bowler who earned three Super Bowl rings during his career in the NFL.
Schlereth had to pay a hefty price to realize his dream of playing football—he endured almost 30 surgeries during his time in the NFL.
Through it all, a battered and bruised Mark Schlereth emerged victorious on and off the gridiron because of his grit and relentlessness.
His tenacity is something that many of today’s aspiring football stars should try to emulate.
Mark Fremont Schlereth was born to parents Herb and Janette in Anchorage, AK on January 25, 1966.
According to Sports Illustrated’s Franz Lidz, Schlereth’s father’s side of the family is German.
His grandfather Fritz worked as a cake decorator in Germany. His father Herb made a living pulling cadavers of homeless people from gutters and transporting them to the local morgue, beginning at the age of 16.
Herb Schlereth became a bodybuilder in subsequent years. He and Mark continued training together when the latter played in the National Football League. He even once claimed he was stronger than his son.
Herb was stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Fairbanks, AK in the late 1950s. He met the former Janette Ramstad at Central Lutheran Church in 1959.
They eventually got married and had several children. Mark came into the world seven years after they first crossed paths at church.
Alaska trip. pic.twitter.com/lvIew3QAhk
— Mark Schlereth (@markschlereth) May 15, 2022
Herb couldn’t read past a fourth-grade reading level until he was 19 years old. He eventually passed his dyslexia on to Mark.
Mark Schlereth began devouring cheeseburgers when he was just a one-year-old toddler in Alaska.
He and his family were regulars at the “Arctic Roadrunner” burger joint. It was a tradition Schlereth continued well into his pro football career two decades later.
In fact, Schlereth was a member of the restaurant’s Wall of Fame—owner Dick Sanchez hung his photo between female mountain climber Norma Jean and fisherman Bob Henderson.
Despite Schlereth’s upbringing in Alaska, he wasn’t much of an outdoorsman.
His dad took him camping just once or twice when he was a child. Many years later when Schlereth earned the first of his three Super Bowl rings, he claimed he never caught a single fish when he was a youngster.
Schlereth first learned to read when he was seven years old, per FOX Sports.
His dyslexia peaked during his junior high school days.
“Nothing was more frustrating than trying to read,” Schlereth told Lidz in August 1992. “And nothing was more frightening than having to read aloud.”
His seventh-grade teacher once asked him to read a newspaper in front of the entire class.
The teacher persisted and he gave in, mumbling several words.
She ordered him to sit down and berated him, telling him in no uncertain terms that he was stupid.
Schlereth took it all in stride. Instead of getting even, he took his frustrations out on the gridiron.
“I’d get even on the football field,” he told Sports Illustrated some thirteen years later when he was entering his fourth pro football season. “If someone made fun of me, I’d run over him during recess.”
No disrespect, but Mark Schlereth being called "dumb" in elementary school due to his dyslexia is NOT on par with the Martin/Incognito thing
— Harrison March (@harrison_march) February 17, 2014
Schlereth admitted to Lidz that was able to make it through reading in class partly by cheating. He would bring a sheet of paper with his spelling words on it and trace over them on test day.
The trend continued until his eighth-grade teacher noticed he had the reading comprehension of a first grader.
She promptly placed him in a special reading class. It paid off and his reading skills improved considerably.
At that point in Mark Schlereth’s life, he told Sports Illustrated he set several goals for himself:
- To enjoy himself
- To get married later in life
- To have kids after getting married
- To play professional football
- To secure a second source of income
- To earn enough money so he could set his family up for life
- To get good grades, secure a college scholarship, and earn a bachelor’s degree
- To go to heaven
Schlereth attended Robert Service High School in his hometown of Anchorage, AK.
He played linebacker and center for the Robert Service Cougars. He eventually earned Cook Inlet Football All-Conference Team honors playing both positions in high school.
Mark Schlereth whittled down his college shortlist to the Idaho Vandals and the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors.
Schlereth ultimately chose Idaho because of the climate, per Sports Illustrated.
Mark Schlereth became an Idaho Vandals legend in the next phase of his gridiron journey.
College Days With The Idaho Vandals
Mark Schlereth attended the University of Idaho from 1985 to 1988. He majored in liberal arts.
He received a football scholarship from Idaho Vandals head football coach Dennis Erickson.
Unfortunately, Schlereth’s reading struggles continued in college. While he could decipher the oncoming pass rush, he had trouble reading college texts.
Schlereth confessed to Lidz in 1992 that he read just one college textbook while he was at Idaho— Business Management 301.
Schlereth improvised by attending class regularly, listening attentively to his professors, and taking copious notes. He figured that strategy would help him get a B average.
It worked—Schlereth eventually earned his diploma with a 2.9 GPA.
Schlereth prematurely retired from the gridiron after his sixth surgery following his junior season with the Vandals.
His injury issues and surgeries became a recurrent theme during his 12-year pro football career.
Schlereth’s coaches’ fears of an impending liability suit prompted him to hang up his cleats.
However, Schlereth had a change of heart and returned for his senior year.
Vandals head football coach Keith Gilbertson, who took over the reins from Erickson in 1986, expressed concern over Schlereth’s health.
Schlereth rehabbed like a madman behind the scenes until his knees were in game shape again.
He reclaimed his starting spot on the Vandals’ offensive line and helped them win eleven of thirteen games during his senior season in 1988.
Idaho never advanced past the first round of the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs in Schlereth’s first three years in the college football ranks.
This time around, the Vandals made it to the semifinal round.
Unfortunately, the Furman Paladins crushed their title hopes with a resounding 38-7 defeat.
Several weeks later, NFL scouts visited the University of Idaho to size up several pro prospects.
Schlereth wasn’t one of them. However, he convinced the scouts to give him a chance.
Despite his ability to bench press 500 pounds and finish the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds, his various position changes within the Vandals’ offensive line and numerous surgeries gave scouts second thoughts.
Fortunately, Schlereth had a beacon of hope in Washington Redskins defensive line coach Torgy Torgeson.
Torgeson was in town to scout defensive end Marvin Washington, who eventually suited up for the New York Jets.
Torgeson called Redskins assistant coach Joe Bugel and convinced him to go to Idaho to scout Schlereth.
Bugel, who didn’t know where Idaho was, relented to Torgeson’s wishes. Schlereth’s powerful hands and grip made a great first impression.
It came as no surprise when Mark Schlereth broke into the pro football ranks wearing Washington Redskins burgundy and gold several weeks later.
Pro Football Career
The Washington Redskins made Mark Schlereth the 263rd overall selection of the 1989 NFL Draft.
Schlereth made history when he became the first Alaskan native to play in the National Football League, per the Alaska High School Hall of Fame’s official website.
Schlereth broke into the pro football ranks at the height of the Redskins’ dominance in the 1980s.
Schlereth’s Redskins teammates gave him the nickname “Stinky” after stinkheads—a type of smelly fermented fish that’s a staple in Alaska, per Lidz.
However, there are two sides to the story.
Schlereth said he earned the moniker after he peed in his game-day uniform during a preseason match against the Cleveland Browns in 1990.
“So I literally emptied my bladder,” Schlereth told Fair Game (via the International Business Times’ Gustav Garcia) in the summer of 2017. “Completely on the bench.”
Schlereth could not keep it in any longer so he answered the call of nature on the Redskins’ bench.
When Schlereth took the field, his urine inadvertently splashed on an unnamed teammate’s face after he snapped the football to him.
His teammates couldn’t believe what they just saw. The popularity of Schlereth’s “Stink” nickname reached epic proportions.
Schlereth’s antics didn’t end that night. Urinating in his uniform became a habit during his 12-year pro football career.
Stinky was a right guard who joined a potent Redskins offensive line that included Jim Lachey, Raleigh McKenzie, Jeff Bostic, and Joe Jacoby.
They were collectively known as The Hogs, a group that opened up holes for running backs Earnest Byner, Ricky Ervins, and Gerald Riggs in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“Mark’s got all the attributes to be a Hog,” Jacoby told Sports Illustrated in the summer of 1992. “He’s got the potbelly, the ugly puss, and he’s roly-poly.”
The Hogs helped the Redskins win a combined 34 games in Schlereth’s first three pro football seasons from 1989 to 1991.
Schlereth spent an extra 45 minutes studying after every film session during his third year with the Redskins. His hard work produced impressive results during a game against the Houston Oilers in 1991.
Whenever Schlereth saw Oilers defensive end Ray Childress put his feet together at the line of scrimmage, he went inside.
On the other hand, whenever Childress put his feet apart, he tried barging his way through the Redskins’ pocket.
Schlereth had no trouble dominating Childress that Sunday afternoon.
“I’m not going to lose my job because I don’t work hard enough,” Schlereth told Sports Illustrated a year later.
As a unit, the Washington offensive line was a well-oiled machine in 1991—the Hogs allowed a league-low 9.0 sacks that year.
Schlereth and company upped the ante in Super Bowl XXVI—they gave up zero sacks to Bruce Smith’s Buffalo Bills on their way to a resounding 37-24 victory.
Schlereth also earned the first of his two career Pro Bowl berths two weeks later.
According to Lidz, Schlereth had a pet pig named Wilbur during his tenure in the nation’s capital from 1989 to 1994.
His reading struggles also continued—he tried to cope by reading aloud to his wife Lisa and their children.
Schlereth, who read just one textbook in college, tried reading his first thick book—a biography of notorious serial killer Ted Bundy—when he played for the Redskins.
He also took his faith to greater heights under Joe Gibbs’ leadership in Washington.
Schlereth regularly attended Gibbs’ team Bible studies during his rookie year in 1989.
He initially thought attending those Bible studies would give him a greater chance of making the Redskins’ regular roster.
While Schlereth did make the roster, he also developed lifelong friendships with some of his teammates who became his spiritual mentors.
“Charles Mann and Art Monk and Monte Coleman and Darrel Green—these are brothers in Christ who really helped develop my walk and my journey,” Schlereth told Thrive Church (via SportsSpectrum.com) in the summer of 2000.
Love this devotional today from Jesus Listens by Sarah Young! Perspective on people pleasing. pic.twitter.com/NaErkoGAop
— Mark Schlereth (@markschlereth) May 21, 2022
The Redskins regressed considerably following their Super Bowl-winning season in 1991.
Washington averaged just five victories per year in Mark Schlereth’s final three years with the squad from 1992 to 1994.
He eventually signed with the Denver Broncos prior to the 1995 NFL season.
Schlereth spent the next six years of his pro football career in the Mile High City.
After playing right guard for Washington from 1989 to 1994, Schlereth switched to the left guard position during his career with the Broncos.
Schlereth hit it off with Broncos offensive line coach Alex Gibbs when he joined the squad in 1995.
He told the team’s official website some 26 years later that Gibbs regularly stopped Friday practice a half-hour early. He then wrote a topic on a bulletin board to spark discussion among the Bronco’s offensive linemen.
Gibbs’ strategy helped build camaraderie and improve team culture among Denver’s offensive linemen. It was one of the things that Mark Schlereth looked forward to as game days approached.
Schlereth joined Denver during the pinnacle of the team’s success in the mid-to-late 1990s.
The Broncos clicked on all cylinders and averaged ten wins per year from 1995 to 2000.
With Schlereth as a vital cog in the Broncos’ offensive line, they won their first two Super Bowl titles in 1998 and 1999.
— Mark Schlereth (@markschlereth) May 21, 2022
Schlereth also became a Pro Bowler for the second time between the Broncos’ two Super Bowl-winning seasons.
He also won the George Halas Award following his fourth season in Denver in 1998.
When he first joined the Broncos in 1995, they didn’t have regular team Bible study.
Schlereth thought about orchestrating one and began putting flyers in his teammates’ lockers.
According to SportsSpectrum.com, around ten to 15 of Schlereth’s teammates went to his Denver residence for regular team Bible study.
Schlereth’s spouse Lisa cooked for everyone while the kids watched WWE wrestling in the basement. The Broncos players also watched Monday Night Football after their Bible study session.
Offensive tackle Harry Swayne politely turned down all of Schlereth’s invitations. However, he, too, eventually became a committed Christian after the Broncos won Super Bowl XXXIII in January 1999.
Mark Schlereth retired from professional football following the 2000 NFL season.
Various injuries that required 29 surgeries—including 20 on his knees (15 on his left knee alone)—forced Schlereth to hang up his cleats that year, per FOX Sports.
In a first-person essay Schlereth wrote for ESPN in 2004, he recalled a time when he had the urge to go to the bathroom following back surgery.
Schlereth woke up in the middle of the night and needed to urinate. Unfortunately, his nurse had placed the urinal across the room.
It was a daunting task for Schlereth, to say the least—he was in so much pain he couldn’t even press his hospital room’s help button.
Schlereth fought the urge to urinate in his hospital gown. To his astonishment, he regained his ability to walk the following morning. He didn’t have any more issues relieving himself at the hospital from there on out.
Schlereth aptly summed up his life on the gridiron for Sports Illustrated in 1992.
“My whole life I’ve been told, ‘You can’t! You can’t!” he told Lidz. “I tell them, ‘I can’ because I can do whatever I want to do.”
Mark Schlereth and his wife Lisa have three children: Alexandria, Avery, and Daniel. They currently reside in the Denver, CO area.
4 generations of Schlereth boys! We are blessed beyond what we deserve. Thank you Jesus! pic.twitter.com/M5FaQPEqsx
— Mark Schlereth (@markschlereth) May 22, 2022
Daniel was a baseball player who previously suited up for the Miami Marlins, Detroit Tigers, and Arizona Diamondbacks.
His sister Alexandria is an actress who has appeared on the MyNetwork television series “Desire.”
According to The Denver Post’s Jim Armstrong, Mark Schlereth switched to a low-carb diet after he retired from the NFL.
Schlereth’s weight peaked at more than 300 pounds and hovered around the 287-lb. mark during his playing days.
He slimmed down to an average of 220 pounds after sticking to a low-carb lifestyle during retirement.
ESPN hired Schlereth as an NFL analyst in 2001. He went on to spend the next 16 years of his thriving sports broadcasting career with the network.
Schlereth was a regular fixture on ESPN shows such as “SportsCenter” and “NFL Live.” He also made occasional appearances on “Mike & Mike in the Morning” and “Jim Rome is Burning.”
He became a member of the Idaho Vandal Athletics Hall of Fame in 2008.
Schlereth left ESPN and joined FOX Sports as an NFL analyst in 2017.
He tried his hand at acting after he retired from pro football. Schlereth portrayed detective Roc Hoover in the CBS soap opera “Guiding Light.”
Schlereth also appeared in the 2012 movie remake of “Red Dawn,” the sports medicine television show “Athlete 360,” and the HBO television series “Ballers.”
Schlereth and David Bloom own “Stinkin’ Good,” a company that makes sauces for eggs benedict, nachos, burritos, chicken soup, and various delicacies.
Schlereth hired Bloom, who owned a landscaping company, to work on his yard during his playing days in the National Football League.
One day, Bloom asked Schlereth to try his green chile recipe which Schlereth immediately fell in love with.
Before long their “Stinkin’ Good Green Chile Sauce,” which carries Schlereth’s nickname “Stink,” hit various grocery shelves in the Colorado region.
He was inducted into the Alaska High School Hall of Fame in 2019. He’s also a member of the Denver Bronco’s 50th Anniversary Team.
— Mark Schlereth (@markschlereth) May 25, 2022
Schlereth currently co-hosts “Schlereth and Evans,” a daily sports radio talk show on Denver’s 104.3 FM The Fan, with radio broadcasting veteran Mike Evans on weekdays.
Schlereth also hosts the “Stinkin Truth” podcast, a weekly podcast about the National Football League.
He underwent successful heart surgery in the spring of 2022.