It won’t be Manning Bowl III when the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears get together at Soldier Field on Sunday, but it’ll be every bit as important to the McCown family of Jacksonville, Texas.
Quarterback brothers Luke and Josh McCown will be on opposite sides of the field for the third time in their NFL careers — Luke with the Saints and Josh with the Bears — just three weeks after Peyton and Eli Manning met for the third time as pros.
Luke McCown is the backup to Drew Brees and Josh McCown is the next man up after Bears starter Jay Cutler, which partially explains the lack of hoopla around their meeting.
“That’s only in everybody else’s mind,” Luke McCown said with a laugh.
While they’ve remained close, the competition has always been fierce when the McCown brothers get together — especially when it came to deciding who was the better quarterback.
The same will be true Sunday, even though neither may not take a snap at quarterback, which is what they’re hoping for.
But they’ll be ready, just as they were back in their high school and college days when they competed to see who was the best in any sport.
“It was driveway basketball, one on one, every day after school,” a smiling Luke McCown said. “It usually ended up in a fist fight because, you know, somebody didn’t like the call the other guy made — or whatever it was.”
While it was mostly one-on-one, the games sometimes included friends. But it also included older brother Randy, who was a three-year starter at quarterback for Texas A&M, and their dad, Pat.
“Sometimes, it would be me and Dad against Randy and Josh,” Luke McCown recalled. “We had some knockdown drag-outs. In the summer, it was baseball in the front yard. We’d play anything ... whatever we could find to play, we would play.”
When they got around to playing football in the fall, Luke McCown said they would rake leaves and pile them up at each end of their “field.” To score a touchdown, he said, they would have to dive into the leaves.
That’s where the fiercely competitive spirit of Luke, 32, and Josh, 34, developed.
“Absolutely, it was competitive. ... We hated to lose,” Luke McCown said. “As the youngest of three boys, it was obviously hard for me to win games. So that created a fighter spirit in me early where I had to defend myself in some way.
“If I couldn’t beat them in a basketball game or whatever it was, it was like, ‘Well, let’s break out in a fight and see who can win,’ ” he said with a laugh. “So that’s how it went growing up.”
Josh McCown said they were always each other’s biggest fan away from the home throughout their athletic careers.
“People on the outside must have thought we hated each other,” he said. “But that was when we developed the competitive toughness and desire and the will to compete. We learned that from our parents, so that’s a credit to them.”
Josh went on to play three years at SMU before transferring to Sam Houston State for his final season, while Luke had a record-setting college career that earned him a spot in the Louisiana Tech Athletics Hall of Fame.
Josh was selected in the third round of the 2002 draft, while Luke was a fourth-round pick two years later.
Neither have enjoyed the kind of careers they envisioned having, but playing in the NFL for 12 and 10 years, respectively, has been rewarding for both.
“It’s a credit to our competitiveness,” Josh McCown said. “The little things that we learned about competing early on in our lives have paid dividends right now late in our careers.”
“Having a set of siblings that play the same position is really a neat deal,” said Luke McCown, “because we get to share the same experiences and are able to offer up any amount of advice that we can give each other.
“We talk at least once a week,” he added. “It gets tougher to do during the season, but we generally talk once a week or so.”
Being on the same field Sunday for only the third regular season matchup will be rewarding as well as it has for most of their NFL careers. They played twice in 2008 when Josh was with the Carolina Panthers and Luke was with the Tampa Bay Bucs.
They split those earlier games, so Sunday will be the tie-breaker with their parents, Pat and Robin, sitting proudly in the stands. Both brothers will win regardless of the outcome, Luke McCown said.
“It’s the family business, and it’s been that way for a long time,” he said. “It’s something we’ve loved doing. It’s what we’re good at, and we wanted to be great at it, so we worked at it. We take a lot of pride in it, so it’s going to be special.”