ATLANTA — Jason McCourty doesn’t have to think long to pinpoint the best time he ever had playing football with his twin brother Devin.
It was their second year together, playing Pop Warner Football for the Valley Cottage Indians. They’d posted a schedule magnet on their refrigerator — their mother loves refrigerator magnets — and they’d track how many touchdowns each of them scored each week. By the end of the year, they’d have the exact same number. Of course.
“We’d wake up early on game day, go out in the yard, go over the plays, throw the ball to each other,” Jason, now a member of the New England Patriots, recalls. “You think back to the age of 12, doing those things, you couldn’t have imagined now you’d be playing in the biggest game of the year.”
Devin has played for the Patriots since 2010, winning two Super Bowls and reaching two more. Jason, on the other hand, has spent most of his career with Tennessee and, last year, Cleveland … and we don’t need to tell you how many Super Bowls Jason’s won in that time, do we?
Granted, the family’s been thrilled for Devin, traveling all over the country for Super Bowl after Super Bowl. And Jason’s spent most of the last 10 years as a combination of event planner and security guard, handling tickets, setting itineraries and keeping the family on track.
But someone else is going to have to take that job this year. Wonder of wonders, Jason McCourty has enjoyed literally the greatest two-season jump possible — from an 0-16 Browns team to a Super Bowl participant — and, even better, he’s playing football with his brother again.
Being defensive backs, the McCourty brothers don’t score as many touchdowns as they once did. But they’re still shaping games, just from the other side of the ball. (For the record, Devin has 59 solo tackles this season, Jason has 54.) And now they’ll get the chance to do it on the grandest stage in sports, the most intriguing brother Super Bowl story since Jim and John Harbaugh faced off six years ago.
“You can’t make this stuff up,” Jason said. “There’s no way you’re sitting here at the end of last year and saying, ‘Come next year, I’m going to be in the Super Bowl.’ You can’t imagine those things. That’s why it’s been such a special journey this year, playing with my brother.”
Anyone who reaches the NFL has scaled a mountain that reaches into the clouds. But the McCourty brothers — and, let’s be true here, their mother Phyllis Harrell — have one heck of a special tale of triumph over adversity. When the twins were just 3 years old, their father Calvin, age 36, went to work one day, suffered an asthma attack, went into cardiac arrest and died before Phyllis could reach his side.
Suddenly Phyllis, who was working as a nurse, had to raise two young twins by herself. With the help of a community and football, she survived and persevered. The brothers, bound by tragedy and guided by football, played together at every level — in that Pop Warner league; at St. Joseph Regional High School in Montvale, New Jersey; at Rutgers; and finally, at long last, together in the NFL.
Along the way, they’d challenge each other at every turn. During timeouts in high school basketball games, Jason recalls Devin chiding him to play better defense on the other team’s top player, and they’d argue so much that the coach would tell them both to shut up. During offseason workouts at Rutgers, they’d hit the field in 90-degree weather, each one pushing the other harder, each one saying the other wasn’t working hard enough.
“We just have such high expectations for each other,” Jason said. “We pushed each other to get, I guess, to where we are today.”
While Devin has the grander résumé — he’s a two-time Pro Bowler with two rings – it was Jason who was the more heavily recruited coming out of high school. When then-Rutgers coach Greg Schiano made a push to get Jason on scholarship, Phyllis made sure he knew they were a package deal. Jason played four years at Rutgers and got drafted by Tennessee in the sixth round. Devin redshirted, stuck around another year, and ended up going in the first round to New England.
You can guess what happened next. Devin, part of the greatest dynasty in sports, played in 19 postseason games in his career coming into 2018; Jason had played in exactly zero. While sticking around in the league for a decade is a fine achievement, Jason found his fortunes, from a team perspective, bottoming out hard when he struggled through an 0-16 season last year in Cleveland.
But then former Super Bowl hero turned Super Bowl pariah Malcolm Butler signed with the Titans before the 2018 season, and suddenly New England had a need at cornerback. And suddenly Devin’s constant pleas to get his brother in a Patriots uni paid off. In March, the Browns gave McCourty his freedom, dealing him and a seventh-round pick to New England for a sixth-rounder.
Jason then leaped into the role he’d been playing since birth – “kryptonite” to his brother in the locker room, taking the beloved and respected Devin down a notch or two. All in the name of love, of course.
And Jason now gets to enjoy for himself what he’d been seeing from afar. “To be for four years on the outside looking in, like in the driveway looking in the window,” he said, “and now to be able to experience the different things he told me about … it’s been special.”
Of course, there will be some adjustments. Yes, Mama Harrell will likely wear one of her two specially made dual Patriots jerseys & dash; one half home whites, one half road blues, one featuring Devin’s 32, one featuring Jason’s 30, both tricked up and bedazzled. But this time around, game day will be a bit different.
“She won’t have me to help gather everybody together, get everybody to breakfast and lunch,” Jason said. “She’s on her own dealing with the family.” Somehow, it seems likely she’ll manage.
One way or another, she’s going to have a new magnet for the refrigerator. And if Sunday breaks their way, the McCourty brothers might just have a new favorite season together.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.
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