FOXBOROUGH — The childhood squabbles that date back years and come with being a twin and loving to compete have, for the first time, been replaced by something else.
Which hasn’t been easy for the McCourty twins. They share a Twitter account (@McCourtyTwins), usually talk daily, and have no bigger fans than each other.
Except this week. After numerous seasons spent on the same team — first in Pop Warner, then at St. Joseph Regional High School in Montvale, N.J., then at Rutgers — Devin McCourty will be on the opposing sideline from his twin brother, Jason, when the Patriots travel to Nashville to play their season opener Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.
Both are starting cornerbacks. Both are accustomed to playing on Sundays, then quickly finding out how the other has fared. And if they can catch the other’s game on TV, even better. Game-week pep talks and postgame analysis are also part of the regular routine.
Which makes the run-up to this year’s opener much, much different. As luck would have it, the first time they’ll ever face each other is the first game of the season, so new ground rules have been established.
Devin: “I actually told him to delete my number from his phone. I’m not taking any of his text messages or phone calls this week.”
Jason: “We cut off all communication. I only have one brother this week.”
He would be referring to Larry, the twins’ older sibling.
Since they play the same position, Devin and Jason won’t actually go up against each other on the field. But because they’re identical twins, are roughly the same size (Devin is listed as 6 feet, 195 pounds, while Jason goes 5-11, 188), and have a lot of the same skills, they’ve been popular among their offensive teammates this week, with many of the teams’ receivers looking for a secret scouting report.
“Devin’s been a nice resource to have this week,” Patriots receiver Matthew Slater said. “There are some similarities, definitely. They’re both tremendous players, you respect their game, the way they play, they play hard, they play it the right way.”
“I told those guys that I’m probably the best scout-team look they can get this season, going up against Dev on Sunday, because our games are so similar,” Jason said Wednesday in a conference call with New England media. “So I can line up and do some of the things that he does.”
Said Devin: “I think, any week in practice, you always want to get the best look for how it’s going to be on Sunday, so if I can help out just by being myself, that’s pretty good.”
Almost since they were born — on Aug. 13, 1987, Devin entering the world 27 minutes before his brother — the twins have been competitive. They’ll still discuss legendary one-on-one battles playing basketball and video games, but in football, they were linked on the same path until they got to Rutgers, when Devin red-shirted as a freshman while Jason played. They started for the Scarlet Knights in the same defensive backfield for three seasons.
Jason was drafted first (sixth round, 2009), but Devin went higher (first round, 2010). Last month, the Titans gave Jason a big-time trump card, signing him to a five-year contract extension that could be worth $43 million, with $20 million in bonuses and guarantees.
Because of that windfall, Devin said, he won’t place a friendly wager on Sunday’s game with his brother.
“I’m not going to bet a guy that just got a new extension,” Devin said. “I’ll just keep letting him pay so I don’t have to make any wagers.”
Both have played at a high level: Devin has nine NFL interceptions and made the Pro Bowl in 2010 as a rookie; Jason has four career interceptions.
They look alike. They play alike. If you’re studying film, as the Patriots and Titans coaches have done this week, it might appear that you are seeing double.
“There are definitely some similarities, as you would expect,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “They’re both fast, they’re both aggressive. We’ll never get a better look at a guy than we will this week from Devin. It’s about as close as it gets.”
Said Titans coach Mike Munchak, “I think it’s exciting, the fact that these guys get to play against each other.
“I know they talk quite a bit, obviously they’re very close. I think they’re very similar in a lot of ways, I’m assuming work ethic-wise, very professional. I know it’s a big weekend for their family, it’s something that’s obviously very unique.”
Since the game is in Nashville, Devin has left the family ticket responsibilities to Jason, who figures he’ll need to secure more than 20. Front and center will be their mother, Phyllis Harrell, who is expected to be wearing a special uniform: half Patriots, half Titans. But . . .
“Rumor is she’s going to have a Patriots T-shirt under it,” Devin said.
Countered Jason: “I told her, as long as she’s staying with me and planning on coming back to the house after the game, she’ll be rooting for the Titans.”
Harrell’s sons, together since birth, united by love of football and family — they jointly purchased a home for their mother last year in Montvale — are discovering what life is like when the schedule-maker pits their teams against each other. Proud, confident, and competitive, neither hesitates when asked what’s the best-case scenario for the McCourty twins on Sunday.
Devin: “Patriots win.”
Jason: “Titans win. He’ll get over it.”