Kevin Gorman: Steelers-Chargers game of brotherly love for Pounceys and Watts
Maurkice and Mike Pouncey are indistinguishable to strangers, so the identical twin NFL centers like to have fun with football fans who mistake one brother for the other.
“Every single time,” Maurkice said, reminiscing about how Dolphins fans used to mistake him for Mike when visiting his brother in Miami. “Every store I’m in a store or at the gas station, they’d ask, ‘How’s (Ryan) Tannehill doing?’ I lie to them. I’m like, ‘He’s doing great. He’ll come back stronger than ever.’ Then I’d go sit in the car and laugh. He does the same thing when he’s here: ‘Ben is a great guy.’ ”
The Pouncey brothers will be easily identifiable Sunday night at Heinz Field, even though both will be wearing No. 53. Maurkice will be playing for the Steelers (7-2-1) and Mike for the Los Angeles Chargers (8-3).
The Watt brothers also will be on opposite sides, as T.J. wears No. 90 and plays outside linebacker for the Steelers while Derek wears No. 34 and plays fullback for the Chargers. They played against each other occasionally in practice as teammates at Wisconsin but never before in a game.
Texans star J.J. Watt set some ground rules for his younger brothers: No cut blocks.
“Just don’t go at his knees. Otherwise, everything’s fair,” J.J. Watt told reporters in Houston. “It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch. I hope there’s at least one play where they have to — Derek has to block T.J. straight up, and we can settle it once and for all.”
The idea of tackling Derek brought a smile to T.J.’s face.
“It would be awesome,” T.J. Watt said. “I feel like I can get him down relatively easy. I’ve done it many times in the backyard, so it would be a familiar feeling for him.”
The sibling rivalry was a source of laughter inside the Steelers locker room this week, but the brothers count the blessings playing in the NFL provides their families. You need only to look around the room to understand it, especially after the Steelers drafted safety Terrell Edmunds and signed his brother, running back Trey Edmunds.
Watt and Pouncey talk with their brothers on a daily basis, whether it’s through text message or on FaceTime, then end up talking to each other about what they heard. Sometimes, that serves as a source of envy.
“They’re on the same team so I’ll be like, ‘Did you hear they’re not practicing? What the heck. Why are we practicing?’ ” T.J. Watt said. “Just little stuff. I think it’s cool that Derek and Mike have a relationship and me and Maurkice have a relationship, too.”
But brothers are still brothers, meaning they take advantage of every opportunity to have fun at each other’s expense. For example, here is an exchange this week between Maurkice Pouncey and the media:
Q: So, Maurkice isn’t the outspoken one and Mike the quiet one?
A: “I just look better, honestly.”
Q: Do you play alike?
A: “I play better.”
Q: If you snuck into their locker room at halftime would anyone notice?
A: “I’d take that team to the next level, baby. They would definitely notice.”
The first thing you notice about the Pouncey brothers, aside from their ever-present smiles, is their tattoos. They got their first one together, at age 14: Mind on a Million. Their mother told them not to get any below the forearms, but they didn’t heed her warning. Both are covered, although Mike has more.
“We came home in our sophomore year of college and both of us had tattoos down our forearm,” Maurkice said. “She looked at us and starts crying and was like, ‘This better work out.’ ”
It has worked out wonderfully for the Pouncey brothers. Both starred at Florida, where Mike moved from defensive tackle to guard and played alongside Maurkice. When Maurkice left early and was drafted No. 18 overall by the Steelers in 2010, Mike moved to center. He was drafted No. 15 overall the next year by the Dolphins.
Both became Pro Bowl centers. Where Maurkice endured ankle and knee injuries early in his career, Mike overcame a career-threatening hip injury. He was released by the Dolphins last March and signed with the Chargers. Now, both snap the ball to gold-jacket guys in Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers.
“He’s doing really well. I’m really happy for him,” Maurkice said of Mike. “He’s having an opportunity to have a really great team offensively and defensively. He talks a little more trash now.”
T.J. Watt has had to endure his share of trash talk as the youngest of the three brothers in the NFL. By the time the Steelers selected T.J. 30 th overall in 2017, J.J. Watt was a No. 1 pick, four-time All-Pro and three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and Derek a sixth-round pick.
“I don’t know if you can wrap your head around it,” T.J. Watt said. “But when you really take a step back and look at the big picture, three guys that came from the same household in the NFL. It’s weird. It’s crazy. It’s something I don’t sit back and think about enough, but when I see him on the field it’s going to be cool.”
Even cooler is that when they walk off the field, one Pouncey and Watt will have bragging rights over their brother.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin at email@example.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.