ATLANTA (AP) — Patriots defensive backs and twins Devin and Jason McCourty both have a lot on their minds as they prepare for Sunday's Super Bowl matchup with the Rams.
Jason is thinking about the past and the magnets their mother, Phyllis Harrell, collected and used to post various keepsakes on the refrigerator of their childhood home in Nyack, New York.
Jason and Devin, the eldest twin by 27 minutes, were about 12 years old and playing in the Valley Cottage Pop Warner league together.
Everything went on the fridge, from school report cards to their football schedule. It was a way for Phyllis to celebrate her youngest sons after their father, Calvin McCourty, died following an asthma attack when they were 3 years old and with their older brother, Larry White, in the military fighting in the Gulf War.
"After each game we'd write how many touchdowns we had in the game and I remember after that season we finished with the same exact touchdowns," Jason recalled. "I just remember practicing Pop Warner was fun. ... We'd wake up early on game days and we'd go outside before games and we'd go over all the plays and we'd throw the ball to each other."
Nineteen years later, they will again be tossing the ball around before a game. Only this time they'll be preparing to make history as the first set of twins to play on the same team in a Super Bowl.
For Jason it is a moment he calls "surreal" after spending the first nine years of his NFL career never experiencing a playoff game. He nearly got there a few times during his eight-year stint in Tennessee, then went through "a lot of suffering" last season as a member of Cleveland's 0-16 team.
That changed after the 2017 season when he was traded to New England and reunited with his brother, Devin, a winner of two Super Bowl rings with New England.
"I look back now and being at this stage on this platform. ... You couldn't have imagined that now you'd be playing together in the biggest game of your career," Jason said.
Devin has been Jason's biggest fan and supporter throughout a season that saw Jason appear in 16 games for the first time since 2014.
They are rarely more than a few feet apart in the Patriots facility. And Devin has helped Jason quickly acclimate to and make an impact on a franchise that has given them their first opportunity to be teammates since they played together at Rutgers University.
Jason wound up starting 12 games at left cornerback. He had an interception in the Patriots' 24-12 regular-season win over Buffalo late in the regular season, which secured New England's 10th straight AFC East title. He also had five tackles in the Patriots' divisional-round win over the Chargers.
Watching his brother's success this season is exactly why Devin is also thinking about the clock this week.
He turned some heads during Super Bowl Media Night when he said "I don't know for sure" when asked if he planned to return for his 10th NFL season in 2019. It will be the final year of his current, five-year $47 million contract.
But Devin said he looks at this as a rare opportunity to recapture a moment he and his brother haven't truly had since they were kids.
"I do look at it if we can win this game, win it with my brother, I don't know what else I could do that would top that," Devin said.
He said he'll be playing for Jason on Sunday.
"I'm excited. He's been a great guy just to see as far as excitement and being ready to go, but when it's time to lock in, he's locked in," Devin said. "He's showing leadership of being ready to go."
Jason, who is in the final year of the two-year, $6 million deal he signed in Cleveland, said he hasn't thought about retirement.
"At this point, no," he said. "Throughout your career you always talk about the end of it like, I sat out my rookie year and said, 'Man, it would be cool to hit double digits.' Now here I am and double digits. ... I think there will be a point, mentally, physically that you're just done with the game. I think at that point you'll be at peace with it and ready to walk away."
In the meantime, a sport that has always been a family affair for the McCourtys will continue for another week. Their mother used to wear a custom-made half-Patriots, half-Titans jersey on game days. She updated it to a half-blue, half-white Patriots jersey this season honoring her sons.
Jason said he isn't sure what she has up for Sunday's game.
"You never know with mom," he said. "I wish her luck, though. She won't have me out at the Super Bowl this year to help gather everybody together and get everybody to breakfast, lunch and all of that. So she's on her own this year to deal with all the family."
Has she already gotten Super Bowl keepsakes for her fridge?
"You just gave me a great idea for a gift," Jason said. "So at some point I have to go to the gift shop and grab a magnet."