One of the last times Marvin Kendricks watched his sons compete against one another, he had a heart attack.
That was when his older son, Mychal, played for the California Golden Bears and his younger son, Eric, played for the UCLA Bruins.
Now the two brothers will meet again on the field, this time in Philadelphia on Sunday for the NFC Championship. Mychal plays defense for the Philadelphia Eagles, while Eric is middle linebacker for the Vikings.
One of these Fresno natives will be heading to the Super Bowl -- but to get there he’ll have to defeat his brother.
“We aren’t going back there this weekend because it’s hard for us,” Marvin Kendricks said. “Someone’s going to get hurt. I’d rather be 2,000 miles away this time.”
Instead, he and his wife, Joanne Clark Kendricks, will watch the matchup from their home in Fresno. Marvin has been known to get pretty upset if the game isn’t going his way. During the final minutes of last Sunday’s game, when it wasn’t clear the Vikings would come up with a win, Marvin left the house entirely.
“He couldn’t watch it,” Joanne said. “He was standing outside. I could see him lurking in the window.”
It wasn’t until he saw Joanne doing “the happy dance” that he realized Eric would be going to the championship game after all. While the couple are proud that both boys have gotten so far, this championship poses a new question: Who to root for?
“I’m a little partial towards my baby boy, Eric, 'cuz he went to UCLA and that’s my alma mater,” said Marvin, who was a running back for UCLA in the early 1970s.
“Whatever Mychal does, Eric does better. They’re both great athletes.”
But worried about the long-term health outcomes for football players, Marvin doesn’t want his sons to play more than 10 years. Mychal’s already in his sixth NFL season, and Marvin would like to see him get a Super Bowl win.
"I’d like to see Mychal go this time," he said later in our interview. “Philly hasn’t gone and he’s been in the league six years now. He’s got less time left than Eric. Eric, their team is young enough I think they’ll be back again real soon."
Marvin says that while the brothers are close, they aren’t talking to each other this week. He’s just glad they both play defense and won’t actually have a chance to hit one another on the field. He has already heard some trash talk from each of them.
The boys' mother, Yvonne Thagon, who separated from Marvin early in the boys' lives and raised them, plans to be at the game Sunday in person. She said she had a premonition it might come to this.
“I had known that it was going to come down to this, to this weekend where they would probably be playing each other,” Thagon said. She wouldn’t dream of taking sides, but says other fans sometimes look at her funny when she cheers for both teams.
“When they’re playing like that against each other, I just watch them. I watch their position,” she said. She has had a lot of practice watching defensive linebackers and said her boys play a lot alike.
“Watching them on the field, you would kind of forget which one of them you were there watching because everything about them, their stance when they're lined up, everything’s the same,” Thagon said. “Or when they’re squatted down, they’re squatting the same way with the same knee up. It’s crazy.”
She knows only one team can win, which means one of her sons will be disappointed. But they don’t talk about the losses. They move on. She’s looking forward to grabbing dinner with the two of them after the Super Bowl, when they can just be a family again.