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Two McCourtys Are Better Than One

11 Jan 2019
Photo by
Billie Weiss/Getty Images
Photo by
Billie Weiss/Getty Images
Jason McCourty
New England Patriots
11 Jan 2019

So a lot of people think my brother and I look alike.

I’ll be honest, I don’t see it.

Like, I get it, of course … but, nah, I don’t see it.

This is me:

And this is Devin:

Jason:

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Devin:

Frank H. Conlon/The Star-Ledger via USA Today Sports

Handsome:

Elise Amendola/AP Photo

Devin:

Elise Amendola/AP Photo

See, couldn’t be more different.

But still, when you’re a twin, people often don’t view you as an individual. They see a copy of the same person and sometimes that will make them want to know which one is better. For example, from the very first time we put on pads for Pop Warner, everyone — from the kids to the grown adults coaching us — wanted to see which of us could run faster, hit harder or just be tougher.

I even remember one time when we were really young, like eight or nine, and one of the older kids in the neighborhood grabbed some boxing gloves from his house because all his friends wanted to watch Dev and I fight.

We were in front of the Nyack Plaza Apartments, the complex where we grew up, surrounded by what felt like the whole neighborhood of people clapping and yelling at us to go at it. The thing is, Dev and I had never actually fought before, much less boxed. Yeah, we argued and we wrestled — I mean, we are brothers — but we never actually threw hands.

Courtesy of the McCourty Family

I kind of figured Dev was on the same page as me. How am I gonna throw a punch at my brother, man? So we kind of just walked around each other in circles for a bit, nobody really making any moves, then — I guess because he was feeling some pressure from the situation, but I don’t really know— Dev just popped me right in the nose.

And like, I was stunned. It really hurt! And right away I just started crying and pushed my way out of the circle so I could run home to my mom.

I burst in the front door, still crying, and told my mom what happened. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so mad. She didn’t let us leave the house for a week. Her message was clear, and one that always stuck with me: You can disagree with family. You can argue with family. But you never fight with family. Because family is all you got.

In hindsight, my mom was teaching us to appreciate our uniqueness as twins. She wanted us to support and motivate each other, not compete against each other. It was a lesson that has remained invaluable.

That’s all to say that over the years, despite being twins with the same dreams in the same profession, we’ve been good about not trying to compare ourselves with one another.

But still, like I was saying, when people look at us, they see the same person. Like, I’ve had full interactions with fans as my brother and they don’t notice. Pretending to be Dev is easy. I just act like myself except much louder.

If you were to ask him, he’d probably say I should have more fun. That I’m too serious. Honestly, maybe that’s fair. But there’s a reason I’m the way I am and he’s the way he is, and I think it has at least something to do with how different our careers have played out up to this point.

The Star-Ledger/Barcroft Media

The Patriots have made the playoffs every year for the last 10 seasons. That’s the longest streak in NFL history.

Dev has been around for nine of those seasons.

He’s won a division title every year he’s been in the league. He could have an entire wardrobe just made up of those hats and t-shirts they give the players on the field after they clinch a title.

Me? Not so much.

This is the first time I’ve ever been on a team that’s made it to the playoffs. And I’ve been in the league longer than Dev.

So all the things that he and other vets on the team might think of as routine at this point are all new to me. We’ve played almost as many prime time games this season as I have in the last five years. Like even just having the regular season end and coming into work the following Wednesday was kind of crazy to me. I was telling the guys that just being in a football facility past the month of December is a straight-up blessing.

As I prepared for the 2009 draft, I vividly remember meeting with a prospective agent that told me if I put in the work, I could be a good special teams player in the league for a little bit.

On one hand, thanks for the honesty, I guess. But I thought I might be capable of more.

But I honestly didn’t know.

Kevin Terrell/AP Images

I got drafted by the Titans in the sixth round. So I got drafted, but not by much. There’s nothing guaranteed for a sixth-round draft pick. I remember when I drove down from Rutgers to Tennessee with my then-girlfriend, now-wife Melissa for my first training camp, my goal was to play in the league for at least 10 years, but we also both knew my NFL career could just as easily not last 10 days.

I was the eighth corner on the depth chart knowing the team might keep only half that many on the final roster. So I just played as hard as I possibly could in order to keep my roster spot for one more day. I ended up getting one of the last roster spots as a special teams player, but even then, it didn’t feel like I was set. I still knew that any given week there might be an injury at another position and they’d need to cut me to bring in another player. But week by week, I stuck around. I even got some snaps as a starter after we had some guys ahead of me go down with injuries. By the end of that season, when I made it through and was still on the roster, I thought that maybe — just maybe — I was cut out for this league.

And that spring, Dev got drafted in the first round by the New England Patriots, 27th overall. For context, I was picked 203rd.

He was a first-day starter for the Patriots. Got seven interceptions his rookie year and made the Pro Bowl. Basically, his experience was different than mine. Entirely different.

I went with Dev to Honolulu for the Pro Bowl. I wanted to just be able to experience that moment with him, partly to enjoy his success but also as motivation to push myself. That’s honestly one of the blessings of having a twin who shares your interests. You kind of get this mirror view of what you’re capable of. And that plays out in a lot of different ways.

Not long after we got back from Honolulu, Dev and I were working out together at Rutgers. We’re hard on each other during workouts because when you’re with someone that has the exact same genetic makeup as you, there aren’t a lot of excuses to be made. At one point, I got on him for not doing as many pull ups as he should have. He jumped off the bar and got in my face saying, “You think these pull-ups are going to get you to the Pro Bowl?”

Wow!?

We laugh about it now, but we got pretty heated in the moment. And he apologized to me after the fact, even though it wasn’t needed. My brother knows how to push me more than anyone in the world, and I try to do the same for him. We understood that we needed to motivate each other like that. That’s how we made it this far. Because ultimately, we’re always going to be there to support each other when we need it. Over the years, I’ve had calls with Dev when he needed a lift, and lord knows, he’s done the same for me. Seeing all that he’s accomplished, all I’ve ever wanted is for him to push it further. Really see how far he can take it. And for him, he’s wanted to lift me up. Have me experience some of the great things he’s been part of in this game.

I ended up making a home for myself in Nashville. I became a team captain, which isn’t bad for a guy who was lucky to stick on special teams (according to some). And I got a lot of perspective about just how tough it is to win in this league. When your team doesn’t make the playoffs, that usually means that some roster changes are going to be made. So while Devin was preparing for the playoffs — every FREAKING year — my wife and I were usually thinking about our future.

And I know I’ve got to give a real shout out to my wife Melissa here, and, really, every player’s wife. They’re way tougher than we are. Smarter too.

I was entering my eighth season with the Titans, and final year of my contract. The front office had indicated to my agent that I was their guy and they wanted to keep me in Tennessee. Everything seemed in order.

Then I got a call one night from my friend and fellow Scarlet Knight, Logan Ryan, who also happens to be a cornerback. He was thinking of signing with the Titans. He had visited with the team to get a feel for everything and wanted my opinion of the organization and the city — the type of stuff any person wants to know before taking a new job. Honestly, I was pretty excited because Logan’s a great player and an awesome person. I knew he could make us better, but I had doubts about my future on the team.

After I hung up with him, I shared the news with my wife. My excitement for Log possibly joining the team disappeared when our conversation continued. Then she hit me with some truth I hadn’t considered.

“So Logan visited the Titans?”

I nodded.

“And they’re trying to convince him to sign and know you have a relationship with him?”

“Yup.”

“And they didn’t let you know about it in advance or try to hit you up to see if you could help convince him?”

That’s when I paused.

“Uh, no.”

“Well, this isn’t looking too good for us then.”

See? Smarter than me.

A few days before offseason workouts were set to start, I got released. And kind of all at once, that same doubt I had when I first came into the league returned. Every one of us who plays this game understands it’s a business. But still, when you spend nearly a decade with the same team, you feel some kind of way when they decide you aren’t needed anymore. It’s humbling for sure.

I ended up signing a two-year contract with the Browns, which looking back now is an experience I’m really thankful for. It was a young roster so I got a lot more experience as a leader and mentor, basically being able to offer all the advice to young players that I would have wanted when I came into the league. No, we didn’t have much success as a team, but I gained a lot of confidence from how I played individually. Because of my experience in Cleveland, any sort of doubt I had in my ability to play at the highest level after being released by the Titans was kind of washed away and I really needed that.

I knew, just based on how Cleveland was building out their franchise, that I probably wasn’t part of the long-term vision, and I was OK with that. I understood there was a good chance I might need to find a new team and move my family again, which was the only part I wasn’t looking forward to.

Well, at least not until I got a FaceTime call last spring that changed everything.

Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports

The way my brother tells it, it all started with a text to Bill Belichick.

His pitch?

“Coach!!! What’s up? Two McCourtys are better than one.”

I don’t think every player is on texting terms with Coach. But Dev has been in New England his entire career. Nine seasons. He’s won two Super Bowls. So, all things considered, he wasn’t a bad reference on my behalf.

Coach didn’t respond.

No dots even indicating he was typing up a message. Nothing.

Straight played him.

Welp, I guess he thinks one McCourty is enough.

But then, 45 minutes later, my brother got a call from Bill. A traditional phone call seems more his style anyhow. Right after they spoke, Dev FaceTime’d me. I was at a rehab facility working on my ankle when I picked up. Right away I saw that he had this huge smile on his face, so I knew it was either good news or he’d thought of a funny way to roast me.

“I wanted to be the one to break the news to you. So, get ready. We’re about to trade for you.”

At first I thought he might be messing with me. That’s just Dev’s personality, I could see him doing that.

“Bro I’m serious! You’re gonna be a Patriot!”

And that’s really when I kind of froze for a moment. It hit me that this was really happening. I started smiling too — and I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling since that moment.

About 10 minutes later, the Browns informed me of the trade. And then the next FaceTime was from my mom. I don’t remember what she said — honestly I’m not sure if she said anything at all. She was just screaming.

Like, AHHHHHHHHHHHH! I’M SO HAPPY! THIS IS AMAZING MY TWO BABIES ARE PLAYING TOGETHER FINALLY!! AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Something like that.

After we hung up, I took a moment and kind of exhaled. I went home right away, busted through the door and told my wife and … at first she was kind of pissed. New England had been our first choice but, by getting traded, we weren’t able to negotiate for more money like we would have if I was a free agent. Like I said, she gets this business. But after a few moments, we both just started laughing together. It was just kind of surreal to have started this journey with her driving down to Tennessee all those years ago with no idea what the future held, and now in year 10 getting the opportunity to relive college and play alongside Dev.

She told me, “Just savor this. No matter how things go, whether you play every snap, and have the best year of your career, or whether you’re just on the team and don’t play a single snap, you’re getting an opportunity to play with your brother. This may be the only season you get to do it. Embrace it, enjoy it and don’t take one second for granted.”

I love that woman.

Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

So I definitely expected some growing pains when joining the Pats.

It wasn’t just about defining my role or figuring out the new system— I was the identical twin of one of the most recognizable players on the team. And while I still maintain it’s not that hard to tell us apart, it’s just the life of an identical twin.

Like when I first got here in April, there were so many times I’d be in the training room in the hot tub and someone would walk in and just kind of pause. I knew what they were doing. They were waiting for me to talk first to figure out whether I was the player who had been with the team for a decade or the new guy. They knew if the person in the tub greeted them with a joke or something funny, that was Dev. If it was a “Hey, what’s up?” that was probably me. Unless it was Dev pretending to be me, which, I’ll admit, historically has happened.

By the way, for the record, this is definitely Jason writing this. For sure. Not Dev.

(But is it?)

Yes, it’s Jason.

Anyhow, I remember early on in training camp, we were out there doing drills and Bill called us both over, super serious. When we got to him, he looked at both of us back and forth a couple of times and said, “Do you guys have to wear the same f***ing sleeves?”

And then of course, we wore the same sleeves for the rest of camp. Had to. Too funny not to. And Bill still struggled with it. Even when we were in jerseys wearing our different numbers, he’d just called me Dev too.

However, people getting my name wrong was the least of my concerns. As I lined up at safety in the second half of the fourth preseason game, not making the team seemed to be a plausible reality. But, like my mom taught me, control what you can control. So I did what I’ve always done… I worked!

Over the course of the season, people have gotten better at telling us apart. And that’s even with me making it harder on them by getting louder as I’ve gotten more comfortable.

Since I’ve arrived here, I’ve followed my wife’s advice and savored every moment. To have that opportunity to look across the field and see my brother out there competing with me, it’s the highlight of my career. No doubt.

But, beyond that, after years of having my season end early, to come to an organization and have success has been amazing. In New England, winning isn’t some bigger goal, it’s part of a process. It’s the expected result. And even though this culture is like second nature to most of the guys on the team who have been here their whole career, it hasn’t always been that way for me.

Our first game of the season, I was only on the field for six plays. But we won, and I was absolutely elated. I hadn’t been on a team that had won a game in almost two years.

After the game my mom was upset because Dev was on the field a lot more, but I had to stop her there. This season wasn’t about personal stats or playing time for me. That’s not to say I don’t want to maximize both of those things. Of course I want to be out there every play. But even more than that, I want to win games with my brother, and as long as we’re doing that, I’m happy.

As the year went on, I got more chances to play and carved out a role for myself. And the guys on the team, knowing I’d never made it to the playoffs, rallied around that. They wanted to win for me, which meant a lot. We ended up clinching against Buffalo a couple of days before Christmas, after I got a late interception to seal the game. When I ran over to the sidelines, all the guys were waiting there to celebrate with me.

And you better believe, as soon as that game ended, I was the first person in line to get my damn “Patriots 2018 AFC East Division Champions” hat and t-shirt.

I’m building out my own collection now.

Elise Amendola/AP Images

I got a text from my old teammate Alterraun Verner after we clinched our playoff spot. We played together for four seasons in Tennessee and he’s a close friend.

“Man, I’m living vicariously through you for these playoffs.”

That really stuck with me. There are so many great players, including Alterraun, who I’ve been around or played against that never get this opportunity. I was one of them. I get it.

So I’m not taking any of this for granted. I’m honored to have the opportunity to compete on a team like this and represent all the guys who work so hard and never get an opportunity like this.

Timing is everything, too. On January 5th, I lost my aunt to her battle with sickle cell disease. That has only further showed me how crucial it is to cherish the moments we have while doing the things we love.

I don’t know how long this ride will last. I know the outside expectation for this franchise is always for it to end with the Lombardi Trophy. But I’m not ready to think that far head. I don’t want to, because it might mean missing the small things that are all new to me even after a decade of playing in this league. Like I’m going to work on a Wednesday in January. That alone is something really special to me.

The only thing I can promise is that I’ll do absolutely everything in my power to make the most of this opportunity and play as hard as I ever have.

And it means a lot that now on this team I’m not just Dev’s brother anymore.

I’m Jason.

Even if Bill still calls me Dev sometimes.

Jason McCourty
New England Patriots