|Cornerbacks Jason McCourty (left) and Devin McCourty will square off Sunday when the Titans host the Patriots.|
One was a first-round pick. One got a mega-bucks contract. They both start in the NFL, they both are shutdown corners, and the McCourty brothers officially will have made it when they get one more thing: a Doublemint ad.
This Sunday in Nashville, the McCourtys will take opposite sidelines for the first time since their voices changed. They're one of three sets of twins in the NFL right now, one of only 14 sets to have played in the NFL ever (see box, right) and the only set who still try to do everything together. Off the field, that is.
National recognizability and their accompanying endorsement contracts are tricky in the NFL. Players wear helmets, meaning their faces largely are hidden. Outside quarterbacks, national pitchmen are few. Devin was a Pro Bowler as a rookie, Jason is already a leader in his locker room, but the 25-year old McCourtys are not the most popular faces in their cities. Nor are they brash and flashy, perhaps the easiest route to a national profile.
By branding themselves together, agent Andy Simms says, "It might allow them over time to kind of transcend that norm."
And so, they share a twitter account (@McCourtyTwins), ending respective tweets with J-Mac or D-Mac. They share a Facebook page. They hold their camps and autograph signings together and their first national commercial, for Palmer's Lotion, was done together. Media consultant Jeff Weiner has one charge: sell them as one pair -- or not at all.
They are a marketer's dream: well-mannered, well-spoken, good-looking and uniformly liked. But as individuals, from the time they were two-sport stars at St. Joe's of Montvale, N.J., through captaincies at Rutgers University, neither ever cared much for the spotlight. It's success as a pair that has been a different dynamic.
"If I can make it and my brother can make it with me," Jason says, "that makes it better."
The McCourtys credit Weiner with the combined social media strategy, but the original two-fer plan was born of their mother, Phyllis Harrell. Devin and Jason were still at Rutgers when she outlined the basics and this week, she said it was an instinct based on business principle, that "everybody is interested when you see two people that look exactly alike." Jason laughingly says there might have been something else at play, namely his mother's lifelong insistence that they were equal.
"Growing up when you're a twin, everyone wants to make it a competition," Devin says. "She always thought if we can be equal, it's easier for us."
Somehow, they have been. Devin made the varsity team in high school first. Jason was better at the end of high school and got more scholarship offers. Jason started as a freshman at Rutgers, Devin was redshirted. Jason was solid as a senior and became a sixth-round pick. Devin was lights-out as a senior the following year and, in no small part because of Jason's coaching for the combine, was a first-round pick. This week, no Patriots receiver has asked Devin about facing his brother, mainly because it will be just like going against Devin -- they walk the same, they jam receivers the same, they even jump the same.
In basketball, in catch and in the classroom, Devin (27 minutes older) and Jason always have been within points of each other. No one's ever been significantly better than the other at anything, even singing. Older brother Larry told both of them they were capable of whatever the other was, mom said the same, and two years ago, when Devin finished his rookie year with seven interceptions and a Pro Bowl nod, Jason sat next to him at a Foxboro Olive Garden and plainly said, "We're the same. I'm not jealous, I just I think I can do that, too."
And so yes, in the prelude to Jason's signing of a five-year, $43-million extension last month, it was Devin he spoke to every day with updates and for feedback. ("He's picking up the larger share of everything now," Devin says.)
The McCourtys have never not been each other's first call. Their father passed away when they were three, their mother wouldn't allow one to try anything the other didn't and until they went to the NFL and had different teammates, neither had a friend the other didn't. ("If Dev didn't like someone, why would I like him?" Jason asks.)
They played on opposing teams only once, as middle schoolers in summer league basketball, but even then they wouldn't guard each other. Devin thinks they were about 9 years old when they were goaded into boxing, in gloves and all, by some neighborhood kids. They came home, their mom locked them in for the rest of the afternoon, and Devin to this day remembers his mother sitting them down and coolly saying, "As brothers, you should never fight in public. Ever."
Sure, privately they've had their moments. Over video games and backyard battles of one-on-one basketball. And now as grown-ups, their jabs are in fun.
Devin told a group of reporters his mom would put a Patriots t-shirt under the split Titans-Patriots McCourty jersey made by the sister of one of their agents. Jason responded by Facebooking a photo of a Titans construction hat he claimed his mother would wear. And then he later threatened: Anyone expecting to stay at his house Sunday night better be rooting for the Titans.
(With a very practiced, let's-be-real tone, Harrell said, "How is he going to know?")
Devin said his mother, who flew to Nashville on Wednesday, "is in a bad area." Jason, who usually texts Devin a dozen times a day, said, "I only have one brother this week." But this is all part of the shtick. They very obviously root for each other and are very clearly each other's best friends. Every offseason, they've gone home to their mother's house, first to the bedroom they shared as teenagers in Rockland County and now to the new home they bought Harrell in New Jersey.
Harrell, a former nurse, isn't copping to many nerves for this weekend. She'll clap for both defenses and she jokes that even if one son loses, she'll still end the night a winner. Turning more serious, she says the weekend, the story behind it and the one still to be written are all "blessings."
"After Jason got drafted, I just spent that whole year holding my breath, hoping Devin got drafted, too. I would've been heartbroken if he hadn't," she says. "They've shared each other's lives forever. I couldn't see one doing something the other didn't."
Neither, it seems, should anyone else.
Follow Aditi Kinkhabwala on Twitter @AKinkhabwala