Dou­bly happy to play Su­per Sun­day

McCourty twins Devin (safety) and Ja­son (cor­ner­back) boost Pa­tri­ots’ de­fense

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS | NFL - Jar­rett Bell

AT­LANTA – Fi­nally, some­thing that can stump Bill Belichick.

The Pa­tri­ots’ icon of a coach un­doubt­edly pos­sesses one of the sharpest minds in NFL his­tory, with a knack for quick ad­just­ments and re­source­ful per­son­nel moves, but I guess he’s hu­man, too.

For all of his great­ness, Belichick some­times can’t im­me­di­ately fig­ure out who’s who.

Was that Devin McCourty or Ja­son McCourty?

“Bill still doesn’t know,” said Devin, the Pro Bowl-cre­den­tialed safety who has played for Belichick only since 2010. “If it was up to Bill, we’d walk around with our jer­seys on all day.”

The McCourty broth­ers — Devin wears No. 32, Ja­son No. 30 — are not only the first set of twins to play in a Su­per Bowl but the first twin team­mates in the NFL since Gene and Tom Golsen toiled for the Louisville Colonels in 1926. Talk about a fresh twist for the Pa­tri­ots fran­chise’s ninth Su­per Bowl ap­pear­ance un­der Belichick.

Ja­son, a 10-year cor­ner­back, was ob­tained from Cleve­land last spring in a trade that also in­volved swap­ping lat­er­ound picks. The trade re­united the iden­ti­cal twins on the foot­ball field for the first time since 2008 at Rut­gers and fu­eled a sea­son-long jour­ney filled with per­sonal mark­ers and the oc­ca­sional mis­taken-iden­tity mo­ments.

Brian Flo­res, the lineback­ers coach and de­fen­sive play-caller who is pegged to be­come the Dol­phins’ coach af­ter Su­per Bowl LIII, has had mul­ti­ple ID episodes in the heat of games.

“You know, 30, 32, it’s hap­pened in games from time to time,” said Flo­res, re­call­ing their chat­ter on the side­line. “I’d say, ‘ Dev, we’ve got to get back our dou­ble,’ and I’m re­ally talk­ing to Ja­son.”

This must be some new type of dou­ble cov­er­age. Although most of their team­mates are said to know them apart, even Matthew Slater, the wily vet­eran of a spe­cial teams cap­tain, has been tripped up.

“There have been a cou­ple of times in the hud­dle when I’ll look up and see 3, and not see whether it’s 0 or 2, and call out the wrong name,” Slater said. “They gave me a hard time about that. But I know them apart now. I like Ja­son bet­ter, any­way.”

Of course, Slater has been a team­mate of the el­der McCourty through­out the safety’s en­tire NFL jour­ney. He has known him well and could al­ways sense the close­ness of the twins.

The McCourty twins, who grew up in New Jersey, trag­i­cally lost their fa­ther, Calvin, a for­mer Army vet­eran, to a heart at­tack when they were 3. They were un­doubt­edly in­flu­enced greatly by their mother, Phyl­lis Har­rell, who goes by the Twit­ter han­dle @Ma­maMcCourty.

“Their dy­namic is so spe­cial,” Slater said. “I think I’ve seen a whole new side of Dev this year. Not that he hasn’t ap­pre­ci­ated the years he’s had in the past. It’s just the unique sense of joy that he has … to be able to share this with his brother. He’s so happy that Ja­son’s been able to get a taste of win­ning and suc­cess af­ter nine years of grind­ing away.”

Un­til this sea­son, Ja­son had never played in an NFL play­off game, while Devin has won two Su­per Bowl rings and is gear­ing up to play in his fifth Su­per Bowl on Sun­day against the Rams.

No, not every­thing has been equally dis­trib­uted for the twins. Af­ter eight sea­sons with the Ti­tans, Ja­son played the 2017 sea­son with Cleve­land, en­dur­ing a 0-16 cam­paign that is about as po­lar op­po­site as you could get from the dy­nasty that his twin has en­joyed.

This was also the sea­son the McCourty twins, 31, were able to spend Christ­mas to­gether for the first time since Ja­son’s rookie year in 2009, with their wives (Michelle and Melissa) and the five chil­dren be­tween them. Ja­son and his wife, Melissa, hosted.

“We did a fam­ily Christ­mas pic­ture on the couch down­stairs and ev­ery­body was cry­ing,” Ja­son said. “It was a ter­ri­ble pic­ture, but prob­a­bly the best Christ­mas we’ve had in years. We never got to see each other on Christ­mas and Thanks­giv­ing. So to have that, for my Mom to come up and hang out, to be able to see each other’s kids, to ac­tu­ally do gifts and not do it through FaceTime, that was awe­some.”

And now the ban­ner sea­son ends here.

Of course, while Ja­son never played in a Su­per Bowl, he’s been a par­tic­i­pant dur­ing Su­per Bowl week in spirit and in ac­tions. He rou­tinely came to the Su­per Bowl site and spent the bulk of the week help­ing Devin at­tend to de­tails for fam­ily ar­range­ments, in ad­di­tion to ad­di­tional qual­ity time.

So in a prac­ti­cal sense, Ja­son has Su­per Bowl ex­pe­ri­ence, too.

“I’d come out to the game on Tues­day,” Ja­son said. “So we’d prob­a­bly meet up and go eat. He’d tell me what he just did. So I’ve kind of got a lot of the nu­ances.”

In­clud­ing the st­ing of Su­per Bowl losses. They say that twins can feel the pain of their twin, which might ex­plain why Ja­son seemed so sin­cere in main­tain­ing he never wants to see his brother suf­fer through the dev­as­ta­tion of a Su­per Bowl loss.

If it hap­pens again against the Rams, at least they will be in it to­gether.

Which brings back the me­mory from two years ago, when the Pa­tri­ots were trail­ing the Fal­cons 28-3 in Su­per Bowl LI. Ja­son was watch­ing on TV.

“I was gone,” he re­mem­bers. “I was pissed off. And it’s crazy. I wasn’t a Pa­tri­ots fan, but I re­mem­ber be­ing in the sta­dium when Dev lost in Indy (against the Gi­ants), and just how hurt he was af­ter that game. I don’t want him to go through that any­more. But I was su­perex­cited when they made the come­back.” He ac­tu­ally turned off the TV? “I didn’t shut it off,” he re­called. “I just walked out of the room. I even­tu­ally came back. I had to cool off.”

Imag­ine the emo­tions that could spill over on Sun­day, which could be quite the se­quel to their em­brace on the field at Ar­row­head Sta­dium af­ter win­ning the AFC ti­tle.

Ja­son al­ready knows the ad­vice from his twin brother: En­joy the mo­ment.

DAVID GOLD­MAN/AP

Pa­tri­ots twins Ja­son McCourty, left, and Devin McCourty ap­peared at Open­ing Night for Su­per Bowl LIII.

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