|Ed Reed, Vernon Davis and Torrey Smith (from left to right) all encountered trying times with respect to brothers.|
NEW ORLEANS -- Twenty miles away from here, away from the jazz-filled streets and the nonstop parties within the French Quarter, a levee overlooks a stretch of the Mississippi River that will always serve as a cold reminder to Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed.
It was there, just over two years ago, where his brother jumped into the fast-moving waters following an encounter with law enforcement; where a body turned up weeks later, identified as Brian Reed, in a sad end to a sad story.
The bond of brotherhood is strong, a point validated dozens of times this week when Jim and John Harbaugh, the first pair of head-coaching brothers to face off in a Super Bowl, have been asked to discuss their affection for each other. Unfortunately, the bond of brotherhood has been validated in somber instances this week, as well.
Just ask Reed. Or Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith. Or San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis. They, too, can tell you about their brothers. And about the depths of their feelings for men in their lives who weren't as fortunate as them.
"Brotherhood," Davis said, "is always being there whenever your brother needs you."
At this week's Super Bowl, all three men -- Reed, Smith and Davis -- will be thinking about their brothers. Smith's brother, Tevin Chris Jones, was killed in a September motorcycle crash in Virginia. Davis' brother, Michael, is currently facing a murder charge, accused of killing a 66-year-old tourist last April in Washington D.C.
"At first, it tore me apart," Davis told NFL.com. "I couldn't sleep. It just tore me up inside. I couldn't believe that it happened. We all go through things in our life, and it's for a reason. I don't worry about it because it will take care of itself."
Davis nonetheless recalls racing home to the D.C. area from San Francisco upon hearing the news of Michael's situation, just as Smith went home when he first heard of his brother's accident a few months later. Both men had other siblings (Vernon's other brother Vontae is a cornerback for the Indianapolis Colts) who needed their support, needed them to be there.
"I think about all of my family before this big game," Smith said. "It's been a long road to get here. I don't just isolate my brother just because he's gone -- I think about all of them just the same."
But beyond the tribulations all three men faced in the wake of devastating developments, Davis, Smith and Reed also came to understand that brotherhood extends beyond blood. They all leaned on teammates to give them peace.
Smith, for instance, leaned on Reed, who understood his plight better than anyone. He also sought out friend and teammate LaQuan Williams for support.
"When that happened to his brother, I just wanted to be there for him, because he'd always been there for me in tough situations," Williamssaid. "It's tough. That's a very tough situation. You need support. You need someone to help get you through it, and I wanted to be that guy for him."
Smith said he has found peace after his brother's loss through the advice of his teammates, like Reed, who have helped the second-year receiver realize that "none of us know when or how we're going to die."
Davis, meanwhile, has also learned to focus on the thoughts he can control. Michael was declared mentally incompetent to stand trial in May, and his situation remains pending. Davis said his brother's mental disability furthers the difficulty in dealing with the situation.
For Reed, the sadness of his own loss has resurfaced this week in a return to his hometown, where his brother died.
But all three players, despite the recent hardships, will not allow those situations to sway their focus as they prepare for the Super Bowl. Instead, they are using the adversity to help them recognize the importance of brotherhood -- a brotherhood that now extends to their teammates as much as their families.
"Regardless of my brother's passing, we've stayed focused on the task at hand, and that was being the best team we could be," Smith said. "There are ups and downs in everything. That's the beauty of this game.
"There's going to be highs and lows, and you've got to stay steady through it. That's what I'm going to do."
Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington.