The Harbaugh Bowl and the 10 Best Brother Rivalries in NFL History
Jim’s Niners (9-1) will look to knock down the Ravens (7-3), who are coached by his older brother, John. It is the first time in history that two brothers square off as opposing head coaches.
Given this festive holiday that brings families together, let’s take a look at the 10 best brother rivalries in the history of the NFL.
Martin and Bill Gramatica (Honorable Mention)
What’s more competitive than two place kicking brothers doing battle against each other?
Martin and Bill Gramatica are known for their field goal enthusiasm. The elder Martin played for 10 seasons and was named to one Pro Bowl in 2000. He won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003, kicking two field goals.
It was Bill who notoriously blew out his ACL in celebration of first-half field goal, ending his rookie season in dubiousness. He played a few more seasons until 2004.
Unfortunately, the Gramaticas’ teams never met each other on the football field. It would have been quite a sight to see the two of them trade field goals and field goal celebrations with one another.
Bob and Mike Golic
Older brother Bob was the three-time Pro Bowl and two-time All Pro selection during his 14-year career as a defensive tackle. He played for three teams but earned most of his success with the Cleveland Browns (1982-88).
Mike was also a defensive lineman during his eight-year career in the NFL. He played for three teams, too, with his more notable stint being with the Philadelphia Eagles (1987-92).
The two did square off once in the NFL careers, back in 1989. Mike’s Eagles beat Bob’s Raiders, 10-7. With both Golics playing on their respective defenses, they were never on the field at the same time, however.
Brian and Bennie Blades
Brian (left) and Bennie Blades both came out of the University of Miami together in 1988, Brian as a wide receiver and Bennie as a defensive back.
Older brother Brian played his entire 11-year career with the Seattle Seahawks, earning an All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection in 1989. He is also a member of the Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary Team.
Bennie was equally as successful as a cornerback and safety during his 10-year career, nine of which were spent with the Detroit Lions. He also was selected to the Pro Bowl (1991) once and is a member of the Lions Legends program, acknowledged as the organization’s noteworthy former players.
The two Blades brothers actually faced off against one another on the field on three separate occasions, as the Lions and Seahawks met three times during their careers (1990, 1993, 1996). Bennie’s Lions won twice. But their competition on the field came to an end in 1998—the two played together for the Seahawks for nine games that season.
Rocket and Missile Ismail
There was no faster rivalry in the NFL than the battle between a rocket and a missile.
Raghib “Rocket” Ismail (left) was the firecracker out of Notre Dame. He was highly touted coming out of college and joined the NFL after a short stint in the Canadian Football League. In nine seasons in the NFL as a wide receiver and kick returner, Rocket played for three teams (Raiders, Panters, Cowboys). His best season was in 2000, when he gained over 1,000 yards receiving. He retired with 363 receptions, 5,295 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns.
Little brother, Qadry, “The Missile,” played 10 seasons, also as a wide receiver and return man. Amazingly, his numbers were not as fast as the Rocket’s, but they were nearly identical: 353/5,137/33. Missile gets the upper hand because he won a Super Bowl, with the Baltimore Ravens in 2001.
Gene and Marvin Upshaw
Taking it back to the old school are the Upshaw brothers, who battled each other during the 1960s and ‘70s.
Gene, the older brother, was a Hall-of-Fame guard for the Oakland Raiders from 1967-81. He was one of the greatest offensive linemen in NFL history, earning six Pro Bowl appearances to go with an AFL All-Star selection. He was an NFL All-Pro seven times, and he won two Super Bowls (XI, XV). He is also a member of the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team.
The younger Marvin played nine seasons (1968-76) in the NFL as a defensive end for three separate teams. He played with the Kansas City Chiefs for six seasons.
Walter and Eddie Payton
What makes this duo such a sweet rivalry is the fact that it includes one of the greatest running backs in the history of the game.
Many people know that Walter was sweetness in motion, and his accolades support his superlative status in the annals of NFL history. A nine-time Pro Bowl selection, Payton was the NFL MVP in 1977, a Super Bowl champion and the NFL’s all-time leading rusher during his 13 seasons with the Chicago Bears.
He finished his career with several of the most important records in the league, additionally, most yards from scrimmage, rushing touchdowns and all-purpose yards. He is a member of the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. Many consider him to be the best football player ever.
What some people are unaware of is that Walter’s brother, Eddie, also played in the NFL, for five seasons with four different teams. Though he was obviously not at the level of supremacy as his older brother, Eddie found success as a kick returner, leading the NFL in kick return yardage in 1980. He also returned two kicks for touchdowns in a single game in 1977.
The Paytons did face each other a couple of times while Eddie played in the NFC Central with the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings. But the rivalry will always be regarded as the battle between the greatest running back of his generation and his younger brother.
Sterling and Shannon Sharpe
The Sharpes were the most prolific receiving combination of brothers in NFL history. Older brother Sterling’s career was cut short after sustaining a neck injury in 1994. However, prior to his injury, he was well on his way to being one of the top wide receivers in the game.
During his seven years with the Green Bay Packers, Sterling was a five-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro selection. He led the NFL in receptions three times (1989, 1992, 1993). In his abbreviated career, Sterling finished with 595 receptions and 65 touchdowns.
Little brother Shannon finished his 14-year career as the most prolific receiving tight end in history. His 815 receptions, 10,060 receiving yards and 62 touchdowns have since been broken, but were enough to place Shannon in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011. He is also a member of the NFL’s 1990s All-Decade team at tight end. Additionally, he won three Super Bowls, two with the Denver Broncos and one with the Baltimore Ravens.
The two faced each other twice—once in 1990 and once in 1993. The Sharpes split the career series, although Shannon did not play in the contest in 1990, which was his rookie season. In the 1993 matchup, Shannon caught seven passes for 55 yards.
Sterling stepped it up, catching 10 passes for 70 yards.
Jamie and Darren Sharper
Even more sharp than the Sharpes, the Sharpers were a formidable brother tandem in their time, too—on the defensive side of the ball.
Older brother Jamie played nine seasons (1997-2005) in the NFL. He played linebacker for three teams, finishing his career after a single season with the Seattle Seahawks. His career highlights feature being a member of the NFL’s best defense, which guided the Ravens to a Super Bowl title after the 2000 season.
Darren, however, played an even stronger and longer career—14 seasons, the last of which was in 2010 with the New Orleans Saints (he injured himself and is still recovering from surgery). The five-time Pro Bowl safety was also a six-time All-Pro and ranks in the top 10 in interceptions, interception return touchdowns and interception return yardage. He was also a member of the Saints Super Bowl XLIV championship team. He is sure to be a Hall of Famer when he’s all said and done.
The Sharpers only faced each other once in their careers, back in 1998—Jamie as a member of the Ravens; Darren as a Packer. Both were in their second seasons in the league. Green Bay won, 28-10.
Rex and Rob Ryan
The Ryan brothers are probably the most famous brother rivalry in the NFL, though the two twins do not actually play; rather, they are coaches on the sidelines.
Rob has been a coach of some capacity in the NFL for nearly 15 seasons. Under his guide, Ryan’s teams have been some of the top-rated defenses in the league. He is currently the defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys, his first season with the team.
Brother Rex is the more famous of the twins as the fiery and outspoken head coach of the New York Jets for the past three seasons. Also a defensive-minded coach, Rex has been largely credited with molding the Jets into AFC contenders, reaching the AFC Championship in 2010. Notably, Rex’s boisterous and sometimes controversial bravado has taken to the forefront of his tenure as the Jets head coach.
The two Ryans have squared off against one another from the sidelines, most recently this season, when Rex’s Jets beat Rob’s Cowboys 27-24 in the season opener. And Rex’s vocal and quotable confidence will always give him the upper hand within the media.
Tiki and Ronde Barber
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One of the more recognized brother rivalries in recent years, the Barber twins have great success on the football field. Together, the Barbers are the most highly decorated brother combo, each receiving several accolades for their performances on the field.
Tiki played 10 seasons, all with the New York Giants, ending his career as the franchise’s all-time leading rusher (10,449). He was selected to three Pro Bowls and three All-Pro selections. He also appeared in Super Bowl XXXV, losing to the Baltimore Ravens. He is currently ranked 22nd all-time in the NFL in career rushing yards. Most recently, he was attempting a rejuvenated comeback this season, but was not picked up by a team.
His identical twin, Ronde, has carved an equally impressive career on the other side of the ball, playing all 15 seasons as a defensive back, all with Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The five-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro selection is a member of the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade Team and the only player to have amassed over 25 sacks and 40 interceptions in a career. He also won a Super Bowl in 2003 against the Oakland Raiders.
Being both members of the NFC, the two faced each other five times in their careers. The Giants and Tiki got the upper hand four times.
Peyton and Eli Manning
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The Manning brothers are in many ways the face of the NFL, having both established themselves as successful quarterbacks for their respective teams.
Peyton, though currently injured, had guided his Indianapolis Colts to an astounding 10 straight 12-win seasons, along the way engineering a championship in Super Bowl XLI. He has established himself as the most accomplished individual in NFL history, making 11 Pro Bowl appearances and five First Team All-Pro selections and winning four league MVP awards.
Younger brother Eli has found his own niche outside the tall and acclaimed shadows of Peyton. The first pick of the 2004 draft, Eli has made one Pro Bowl and famously upset the then-undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, earning game MVP honors.
Alas, the two brothers have faced each other more in television commercials than on the field. The Mannings have played each other twice in the NFL, with Peyton dominating his little bro both times. And because they both play the quarterback position, they are never on the field at the same time.