When you think about your first memories growing up and playing football, the person you most likely first played with was your brother. You played together in the backyard, played during Thanksgiving, or even played just on Madden! The two of you learned the game together, and whether you were on the same team or competitors; he was always by your side.
Most of the time, the big brother is the one who goes on to blaze the path and the younger brother is just following in the footsteps. It's that big brotherly instinct that always wants to dominate and show everyone who the best in the family truly is. However, other times it's the baby brother who becomes the star and the roles are reversed. In those situations, big brother is left saying, "Yep, I taught him everything he knows!"
The NFL is home to some of the best athletes in the world and many of those elite athletes' brothers. Some brother pairings have similarly distinguished careers and there's not much of a drop-off between the two. Tiki and Ronde Barber, Chris and Kyle Long, and the Pouncey Twins are all examples of each brother "doing their job" and spreading the success within the family. But with other brother pairings it's clear that one brother hit every branch on the "talent tree" while the other, more or less, only got into the NFL because of who his brother was.
This list contains some of those situations and other situations where the talent is more evenly spread out. Here are the 8 NFL players who surpassed their older brother and 7 who lived in their shadow.
15 Surpassed: Travis Kelce
Both Kelce Brothers have gnarly beards, are two-time Pro Bowlers, and have been drafted by Andy Reid (albeit on different teams). However, only one Kelce brother has pony-danced in the endzone and starred in his own reality dating show.
Travis is the fulcrum of the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense and was named All-Pro last season even with Alex Smith as his quarterback. He is the NFL’s best tight end not named Gronk which is pretty amazing considering he was a quarterback in high school and during his freshman year at Cincinnati. It was in college where the Kelce brothers teamed up and Travis took QB snaps from Jason, the team’s center. Jason would then be drafted by the Eagles where he would ascend from a 6th round pick to quite possibly the game’s best center. If Jason is somehow able to get his own dating show, as an offensive lineman, then he would definitely leapfrog Travis and put his baby bro in his shadow.
14 Lived In Shadow: Boss Bailey
There may be other brother combinations that were better players (though no fault to Champ); however, there is no better brother name combination than the Baileys. Roland “Champ” Bailey and Rodney “Boss” Bailey were both Georgia Bulldogs and that’s about where their football similarities end. Champ really was the cornerback champion of his era and was a 12-time Pro Bowl selection with the Redskins and Broncos. He made 6 All-Pro teams and also dabbled a bit on the offensive side of the ball as he is one of 3 NFL players with at least 50 interceptions and a rushing touchdown.
Boss may have been a boss in his mother’s eye, but he wasn’t exactly a boss on the field. He played six seasons in the NFL, the first five with the Lions and the last teaming with Champ in Denver. No word on what he’s currently up to, but if he wants to give pro wrestling a shot, he won’t even have to come up with a new nickname.
13 Surpassed: Qadry Ismail
The Ismails’ nicknames were clearly better than their games. Oldest brother Raghib was “Rocket”, middle brother Qadry was “The Missile”, and youngest brother Sulaiman was “The Bomb.” Only Rocket and The Missile launched into the NFL and Qadry gets the slight edge in terms of their careers as he won a Super Bowl with the 2000 Ravens. It’s pretty eerie how similar Raghib and Qadry’s NFL careers were as just 10 receptions and 158 yards separate their career numbers. Raghib’s career peaked before he joined the NFL as he was an All-American at Notre Dame and the Grey Cup MVP before joining the NFL. Qadry played for five different teams and finished his career catching TDs from Peyton Manning in Indy. The real MVP of the Ismail family is their mother, Fatma, who appropriately was given the nickname of “The Launch Pad.”
12 Lived In Shadow: Mike Golic
Before there was “Mike and Mike” there was “Bob and Mike” in reference to the Golics who went from Cleveland to Notre Dame to the NFL. Bob was the better and more accomplished player with more career sacks, more Pro Bowls, and a longer career. He made two All-Pro teams playing with his hometown Browns in the 1980s right when Mike was getting his career started with the Houston Oilers. Bob retired in 1992 and became an actor while Mike hung up the cleats a year later and went into broadcasting.
While Bob clearly had the edge in terms of their football careers, Mike gets the slight edge for their post-playing careers. He is, of course, a co-host on the highly successful “Mike and Mike” radio show on ESPN while Bob still hosts a radio show in Cleveland. Perhaps if Bob had been in Saved by the Bell (the original version) instead of Saved by the Bell: The College Years, he would get the edge; but no one remembers that spin-off show so Mike wins on post-football careers.
11 Surpassed: Randall Cunningham
Many forget that Randall was the baby brother of another NFL player because his brother, Sam, was so much older. Sam finished his 10 year career with the Patriots three years before Randall would make his NFL debut. Both were all-time greats in college as evident by each being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Sam was a fullback in the NFL back when there were fullbacks in the NFL and made his lone Pro Bowl in 1978. Randall would revolutionize the QB position as a dual-threat and made 4 All-Pro teams.
The next generation of Cunninghams could very well make the Hall of Fame in their respective sports. Randall’s son, Randall II, is a three-time All-American high jumper at USC and his sister, Vashti, is also a high-jumper who is signed with NIKE and participated in the 2016 Olympics as an 18-year-old.
10 Lived In Shadow: Marcus Vick
Michael Vick may not have maxed out his athletic abilities on the football field, but he will go down as possibly the greatest video game player since Bo Jackson on Tecmo Bowl. Vick was arguably the most popular player in the NFL during his prime despite being a below-average starting QB. We all know about the dog-fighting scandal that sent him to prison but he rebounded his life and career after that to become a Pro Bowler with the Eagles and a supporter of a bill that targets dog-fighting spectators.
In all honesty, Marcus Vick likely would have never even gotten a shot in the NFL if it wasn’t for his brother. He was kicked off the Virginia Tech football team for multiple infractions, went undrafted, and played just one NFL game for the Dolphins. Since leaving football he’s been sued for molestation of a minor, plead guilty to a DUI, jailed for violating his probation, assaulted a police officer, and arrested for drug possession. If he can’t be the best football-playing Vick, Marcus seems determined to be the best Vick at committing crimes.
9 Surpassed: Derek Carr
Do you think if David Carr played behind the Raiders’ offensive line, he would be a Pro Bowl QB like his little brother? Probably not, but I’m sure his career would have played out much better and he wouldn’t be discussed as an NFL draft bust. It’s almost hard to believe, but in just three seasons Derek has accumulated just one fewer win as a starter (22) than David had during his 11 year career (23). At least David doesn’t have to worry about Derek passing him in terms of times sacked! Derek has already amassed two Pro Bowls and is an early favorite for the 2017 NFL MVP. Not even Las Vegas can corrupt Derek enough to put him in the shadow of David.
8 Lived In Shadow: Jamie Sharper
If you only factor in his play on the field, Darren Sharper has the accolades that merit an induction into the Hall of Fame. When he retired he ranked 4th all-time in interceptions, holds the single-season record for interceptions return yards, and made the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade team.
Jamie Sharper was no slouch on the field in his own right as he lined up next to Ray Lewis on the 2000 Ravens Super Bowl team and led the NFL in tackles in 2003. He didn’t reach the acclaim that his older brother reached during his pro career but he does have this over his brother: Jamie won’t be appearing on a list of “NFL players whose lives spiraled after retirement” like Darren will after the elder Sharper was sentenced to 20 years in prison for multiple rapes.
7 Surpassed: Jim Harbaugh
Just based on demeanor and personality, you would assume that the former Khaki-wearing Harbaugh, Jim, was the older brother while John, the Ravens coach, was the younger brother. But that is not the case and baby brother’s playing career and coaching career have exceeded John’s. John has won a Super Bowl but Jim has turned around not one, not two, not three, not four, but five teams at both the NFL and college levels. A Super Bowl victory carries a lot of weight, but if you asked any athletic director or NFL owner which Harbaugh they would want as coach, all of them except Jed York would say Jim Harbaugh.
As football players, there’s no comparison between these two. John’s playing career ended as a barely-on-the-field DB at Miami (OH) while Jim was an NFL QB for 14 seasons. He was a Pro Bowler, finished runner-up for league MVP, and was one win away from appearing in a Super Bowl.
6 Lived In Shadow: T.J. and Derek Watt
Some think that J.J. Watt is the single best player in the NFL. Others think that J.J. Watt is the single thirstiest athlete on social media. Both may very well be true; but what is a certainty is that Justin James Watt doesn’t have to take another snap in his career to go down as the best of the Watt Brothers. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year would be in the Hall of Fame even if he retired tomorrow.
Middle brother Derek followed his older brother to Wisconsin and is a fullback for the Chargers. After blocking for Melvin Gordon in Madison and then San Diego, he will now, again, pave the way for Gordon in Los Angeles.
Youngest brother T.J. just finished his college career at UW and has declared for the 2017 NFL Draft. He is projected to be drafted, but even if he’s not, something tells me he’ll get a shot as an undrafted free agent for a pro team in Texas not named the Cowboys.
5 Surpassed: Bruce Matthews
There have been seemingly a dozen or so members of the Matthews Family to make its way to the NFL, but only one holds the NFL record for most Pro Bowls (14) and that is Bruce. He started at, literally, every position along the offensive line for the Houston Oilers, the Tennessee Oilers, and the Tennessee Titans. The Cal Ripken of the NFL, Matthews was an ironman and started 229 consecutive games.
Bruce’s older brother, Clay II, didn’t reach the heights of his baby bro but was still a great player in his own right. Clay played in four Pro Bowls and is the oldest player in NFL history to record a sack. Clay II is also the father of Clay III of the Packers while Bruce is the father of Jake Matthews of the Falcons. With the patriarch, Clay Sr., also a former player; the Matthews Family might very well be the greatest football dynasty in NFL history.
4 Lived In Shadow: Jordan Rogers
Mr. Discount Double-Check might very well be the best all-around quarterback in the NFL and has two MVPs under his belt. Even though he has the same number of rings as Joe Flacco, it’s not Rodgers' fault that his team has struggled in the postseason as of late. He is the all-time leader in passer rating and has appeared in a couple of semi-entertaining commercials during his career.
Little brother Jordan was in training camp for three NFL teams but has never appeared in a game. After going up north to the CFL for a year, he retired from pro football in 2015. Apart from being Aaron’s estranged brother, Jordan is best known for being the “winner” of a season of The Bachelorette. He didn’t quite land an Olivia Munn on the show but he and the show’s star are reportedly still engaged.
3 Surpassed: Shannon Sharpe
One could easily make the argument that Sterling was the better Sharpe Brother, and I would not disagree. However, only one of them has a bust in the Hall of Fame, and that is baby bro Shannon. Sterling was well on his way to a HOF career but a neck injury forced him to retire at 29. He was great in his day as Brett Favre’s favorite target and he won the receiving Triple Crown in 1992 as he led the league in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving TDs. He was such a major influence on his younger brother that Shannon gave the first of his three Super Bowl rings to his big brother.
Before Shannon Sharpe became the verbal sparring partner for Skip Bayless, he was the NFL’s elite tight end. Three Super Bowl rings, eight Pro Bowls, and the distinction of being the all-time leading receiver at the tight end position when he retired are just some of the accomplishments of the younger Sharpe. A winner throughout his entire career, Shannon holds the NFL record for most consecutive playoff wins (12) and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.
2 Lived In Shadow: Eli Manning
You can call him “The Sheriff” or you can call him a future NFL GM; either way Peyton Manning is the greatest Manning of them all. He is the most accomplished quarterback in NFL history, a five-time league MVP, and a two-time Super Bowl champion. He may also have starred in some of the funniest commercials from any pro athlete in recent memory, some of which have involved baby bro Eli.
Elisha Nelson Manning will always hold over his older brother the fact that he won two rings first. He’ll never match the yards or touchdowns that Peyton piled up; but Eli can still catch Peyton in interceptions! As Patriots fans will be sure to tell you, you can add up the Super Bowl wins of Peyton, Eli, Archie, Cooper, and even Danieal Manning; and they still won’t match the Super Bowl wins of Tom Brady.
1 Surpassed: Walter Payton
Growing up, Walter Payton actually didn’t even try out for his high school football team until his brother graduated so he would avoid competing with him. Thank goodness Walter was three years younger than Eddie and not his twin; otherwise we may not have ever witnessed Sweetness on the gridiron. Walter Payton is like Willie Mays – arguably the greatest all-around player to ever play in his respective sport. His play helped pave the way for his older brother to make it into the NFL as Eddie Payton joined the league two years after Walter did and after starting his pro career in the CFL.
Eddie would stick around for six seasons as a backup running back and return specialist. The two Paytons did face off six times during their respective careers with Walter’s great Bears teams winning four of the matchups.