INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The Davis brothers will be putting everything on the line Sunday.
Family pride, bragging rights, even control of the dinner-table conversation. It’s all part of a high-stakes poker game in the first-ever head-to-head matchup between 49ers tight end Vernon Davis and Colts cornerback Vontae Davis.
“It’s going to be strange looking across the line and seeing 85 and thinking that’s my brother,” Vontae said Friday.
He’s got 48 hours to get used to the sight and about one snap to get over it, presuming his older brother recovers from a hamstring injury that kept him out of practice earlier this week.
But this is no traditional sibling rivalry.
While growing up in the Washington area, Vernon and Vontae Davis did what brothers do best _ teased and challenged one another. Fights were rare.
Instead, Vontae looked up to Vernon, who is four years older, as a father figure, a role model and a mentor. They still talk almost every day, though the three-hour time difference sometimes makes it tough.
Both played at Dunbar High School before moving on to big-time football programs at Maryland and Illinois. Eventually, they both became first-round draft picks, who had to endure some very tough, very public lessons early in their careers.
Vernon Davis’ moment of truth came in 2008 when he was yanked out of a game and sent to the locker room by then-coach Mike Singletary, who thought Davis was putting himself above the rest of the 49ers. Since then, the older Davis has been to the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl, hasn’t missed a game and has become one of the league’s top tight ends by using his 6-foot-3, 250-pound body and freakish speed to create mismatches on the field. Earlier this year, he thanked Singletary for helping right his career.
Vontae Davis’ lesson came last summer when his struggles in Miami were documented on HBO’s show “Hard Knocks.” The footage included a scene where Miami officials motioned their hands like a wave to illustrate Davis’ inconsistent play and the meeting between Davis and general manager Jeff Ireland after the deal was made.
Vontae continued to struggle after arriving in Indy, partly because he was playing in a new defense and contending with some nagging injuries, but over the final month of 2012, his play improved dramatically. He was even named the AFC’s defensive player of the week after picking off two passes against Houston in the regular-season finale. This year, teams have been throwing away from his side more frequently.
Now, with the Davis Bowl looming, the 5-foot-11, 204-pound cornerback will finally get a chance to beat up on his brother and not get in trouble.
It won’t be easy.
“I have a brother and I can’t imagine lining up against him. I think Vontae will put his best foot forward, but he may take it easy on some of the tackles,” Indy cornerback Greg Toler joked. “Vontae is a great tackler, but I don’t think he’ll try to hurt him.”
There are few people around the NFL who can truly understand what it will be like Sunday for the Davises this weekend.
Of course, there are the Manning brothers, who met for the third time last weekend. Older brother Peyton remains unbeaten in the series with Eli, and each time, Peyton and his parents have explained they don’t enjoy the head-to-head contests.
Vontae Davis watched that game at home and still couldn’t quite fathom what it would be like this week against his brother.
But unlike the Mannings, both quarterbacks, the Davises are likely to go mano-a-mano at least few times Sunday.
About seven family members are expected to attend, and Vontae expects them to be split relatively evenly in red and blue though he’s not sure which color the deciding jersey might be.
Vontae also hopes to show the football world that the young guys can win, and of course, he would rather not have to live with the ramifications of a loss to his chatty older brother. It would just make those rare family dinners too uncomfortable.
“I don’t want to hear no trash-talking at the dinner table,” Vontae Davis said, laughing. “And he would. But it’s all playful.”
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