Saints safety Jairus Byrd loves his father, backup quarterback Luke McCown loves his older brother and undrafted rookie cornerback Brian Dixon loves his twin.
However, the issue this week is that Byrd’s dad, McCown’s brother and Dixon’s twin are members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3), who are set to visit the Saints (1-3) at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday. Because the Saints and Bucs have only one fewer victory than the two teams they trail in the NFC South (Carolina and Atlanta, both 2-2), more than familial bragging rights are at stake — so is an opportunity to keep pace in a division race that’s jumbled at this early phase, albeit one that could come at the expense of a loved one.
The Byrds and McCowns have long known that having conflicting professional interests with kin is a fact of life when the NFL is the family business, while the Dixon boys are bracing for something new.
Nonetheless, Brian Dixon might’ve been speaking for the whole bunch when he said this week, “I’m going to give him my all — he’s not my (relative) on the field.”
Dixon’s twin, Brandon, plays under Byrd’s dad, Tampa Bay cornerbacks coach Gill Byrd Sr. Meanwhile, McCown’s brother, Josh, was the starting signal-caller for the Bucs until he tore a ligament in his throwing hand’s thumb and was replaced by sophomore pro Mike Glennon during a 56-14 defeat for Tampa Bay at Atlanta that was sandwiched between losses against Carolina as well as St. Louis and a win in Pittsburgh (2-2).
Brian Dixon, Jairus Byrd and Luke McCown maintain close relationships with Brandon Dixon, who was originally a sixth-round draft choice for the Jets in May but was cut from that team before signing with Tampa Bay; Gill Byrd Sr., a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback for San Diego from 1983-92; and Josh McCown, who joined the Bucs after having a career year in 2013 in Chicago by throwing for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns, a lone interception and a 66.5 percent pass completion rate to triumph in three of his five starts.
The Dixons were teammates throughout stints on a Pop Warner league in Coconut Creek, Florida; on the football team at Deerfield Beach High School; and at Northwest Missouri State, an NCAA Division II juggernaut that was 15-0 in 2013 to clinch its fourth national title since 1998.
In his first season with Tampa Bay, Gill Byrd Sr. coached Jairus Byrd’s Pop Warner team; less than 10 years later, in 2009, the son was chosen in the second round of the draft by the Bills and set a team rookie record with nine interceptions. The Byrds have since collaborated to establish the Legacy Experience, a foundation which both conducts activities throughout the year meant to strengthen bonds between fathers and sons and symbolizes their tight-knit relationship.
Younger than Josh by almost two years, Luke McCown, 33, has previously explained that he learned what he needed to navigate a career at Louisiana Tech and with five teams in the NFL since 2004 thanks to both of his older brothers, the other of which is Randy, an ex-QB for Texas A&M. Luke watched them and got advice from them as they went down their paths before him, he’s said.
Yet, Byrd intends to treat Sunday the same way he did the first time he opposed his father in an NFL regular season before arriving via free agency in March in New Orleans, which has suffered setbacks in Atlanta, Cleveland (1-2) and Dallas (3-1) while winning against Minnesota (2-2).
“It’s another game, really; and we’re trying to win every time we’re out there,” said Byrd, who lost with the Bills to the Bears in 2010 while his dad coached the defensive backs there. “Obviously, it’s family you’re going up against, but you approach it just like that.”
As for Luke McCown, he said he’s sympathetic about the hurdles Josh has encountered in Tampa Bay this season. The Bucs’ offensive coordinator, Jeff Tedford, underwent a surgical procedure on his heart six days ahead of the start of the regular season; then, Josh McCown hurt his hand.
“But I always want to beat him,” especially with the division up for grabs, said Luke McCown, who holds the ball on the Saints’ placekicks and whose pro teams have beaten Josh’s twice out of three times (including once last year when New Orleans won in Chicago). “We understand the magnitude of where we’re at, understand the nature of how things (in the division) can change quickly.”
Though he shares a locker at the Saints’ facility along the same wall as McCown and Byrd do, Brian Dixon was slightly more playful about the prospect of squaring off against his relative than his veteran teammates were. Both he and Brandon Dixon have rotated in on some defensive snaps and have played special teams, and Brian admitted “it’s going to be a weird feeling going against ... (and) looking at somebody who looks just like me on other side of me” for the first time.
Still, Brian Dixon assured he’ll get over that by Sunday.
“We’re both 1-3 right now,” Brian Dixon said. “I told (Brandon) already I’m going to go all out; he told me that, too. He said, ‘No hard feelings’ — he just has to get his job done, and I’ve get to get my job done.”