Man, is this hard. This is so hard that your brain feels like it just drove the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This is so hard that it might make me take up wine if I had not done so already.
If you get your Harbaugh on and start rummaging around sports siblings seeking an all-time top 10, you might find more than you ever imagined. You might end up jotting down pages and pages of these siblings who worked their way to coveted jobs as professional athletes. You might start to wonder: Are these families really that extraordinary, or is it just not that hard to make the big leagues?
(Let's go with extraordinary.)
Soon, you're realizing that names you originally assumed would occupy the top 10 might not get even close. You're lost amid the football Sharpes, Matthewses, Westbrooks, Barbers, Baileys, Joneses, Bladeses and rampaging Gronkowskis, and the baseball Aarons, Waners, Deans, Alomars, Ripkens, Bretts, Niekros, Martinezes, Hernandezes, Cansecos, Giambis, Boones, Uptons, Conigliaros and, oh, those Molinas, and the basketball Gasols, Wilkinses, Grants, Barrys, Van Arsdales, Lopezes, the hockey Hulls, Espositos, Niedermayers, Sedins and all those Staals.
That's before you even start trying to disentangle the Unsers, Labontes, Busches, Allisons and Waltrips of the driving world.
By the time you stray to the Molinaris and Wadkinses of golf; to the Safins/Safinas, the Sanchezes and Sanchez Vicarios, the Murrays, the McEnroes, the Bryan twins, the Everts of tennis; the Joyners of Olympics; the Klitschkos and Spinkses of boxing; and the Nevilles of soccer, your mind might turn to yard mulch even before you take a look at cricket's Gregorys and Chappells and Waughs. Then you're really lost.
After all of this, back to mind pop the skiing Mahres, and you might want to scream: "Why can't some of you be unrelated!"
Did I miss anyone? Of course I did. These people are everywhere. Some details: Hockey seems to claim the best tandems. It nearly nabbed three of the top 10 spots and might yet do so if I move the Espositos up from my imaginary No. 11 as I have done about five times already during this process. The NBA seems to have the shortest list, which might shine brighter light on the rarity of the Gasols (Pau and Marc), the Grants (Horace and Harvey), the Wilkinses (Dominique and Gerald).
Deciphering the Klitschkos (Wladimir and Vitali) of the boxing 2000s and the Spinkses (Michael and Leon) of the boxing 1970s and 1980s proved especially unnerving. The Spinkses had better competition, the Klitschkos better longevity, the Spinkses more epic wins, the Klitschkos more wins per fight ...
So crowded is this crowd that the Staals of hockey placed four sons in the big league yet somehow would have needed to reproduce still more to make this top 10. I weigh all siblings rather than merely aggregating them, which meant that Hank and Tommie Aaron can't ride in on Hank's numbers even while nobody should belittle Tommie's, and that Wayne and Brent Gretzky can't trade on Wayne's staggering numbers even though nobody should pooh-pooh Brent for playing 13 games in the NHL. (Well, did you? Did I?)
I give extra points for extra numbers, because three pro athletes outnumber two. I give mental points for sport variety. I give added mental points for gender variety. That means I give lots of mental points for a variety-gender exacta, except that originally I managed to forget the extraordinary combo of Billie Jean King from tennis and Randy Moffitt from baseball -- even though this field is so unforgiving that they joined the gifted blob beneath No. 10.
And the Harbaughs. The Harbaughs kept bouncing on and off. The achievements of the two Super Bowl XLVII coaches seem thin and unfinished next to many, yet the achievement of two brothers reaching a Super Bowl as head coaches remains unmatched and, really, not even remotely approached.
The siblings bubbling beneath the top 10 could bounce in one minute from now if I don't hurry up and finish this. The Russians Marat Safin and Dinara Safina became the first brother-sister combination to reach both No. 1 rankings, and that's amazing. The Catalonians Pau and Marc Gasol have stretched across two continents to soar even if Pau might not feel soaring these days. The St. Louisians Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Al Joyner both won Olympic medals, six for her and one for him. The Spinks-Klitschko puzzle remains puzzling as they bob near the top 10. Bobby and Donny Allison carved out great NASCAR meaning, and untangling them from the Waltrips is harder than some forms of algebra.
I almost included Clay and Bruce Matthews when I remembered that Bruce made the Pro Bowl an NFL-record 14 times, and because I have a thing for offensive linemen in general.
And Phil and Tony Esposito, with their Hall of Fame spots and their varying roles, well, please don't make me rethink again.
* * *
(John, Jim: a collective seven NFL playoff berths, two Super Bowl appearances, 78-33 NFL coaching record, one Orange Bowl victory, 26,288 NFL passing yards, 129 touchdown passes)
Maybe they edge out the worthy rivals just below because the Super Bowl bulldozes the mind at the moment, but maybe they do so because, rare for any of these cases, they're an "only." No other brothers have been head coaches in the NFL, let alone ruled the place.
(Darrell, Michael: a collective three NASCAR season championships, three Daytona 500 championships, 88 wins, 520 top-10 finishes)
The discipline and focus and nerve required of these drivers over torturous hours will always astound me, but this tandem almost missed on Aaron/Gretzky-style lopsidedness. Darrell, of course, made the bigger splash, winning three titles and a Daytona 500 and five Coca-Cola 600s. But while 84 of the 88 wins belong to Darrell, two of Michael's four wins came in the Daytona 500, and that alone pushed him into another realm and took both of them with it.
(Felipe, Matty, Jesus: a collective 49 Major League Baseball seasons, 18 clubs, five All-Star berths, one batting title, 5,094 hits and one National League Manager of the Year award)
They make it all the way up here because there were three of them. They make it all the way up here because, in a way I never quite realized until rereading, all of them were at least reasonably good, with Jesus' 1,216 hits the fewest in the trio. (Career batting averages: Matty .307, Felipe .286, Jesus .280.) They make it with the added push of Felipe's managerial run and the woefully uncompleted 1994 in Montreal. And they make it because they all belonged to that first wavelet of Dominican players coming to the Major Leagues, way back in the prehistory of the last mid-century, and they weathered all the difficulties therein, and later that pathway would become a very big deal.
(Vince, Joe, Dominic: a collective 34 Major League Baseball seasons, six clubs, 22 All-Star berths, 4,853 hits, six years of military service during World War II)
While pre-Jackie Robinson baseball players never got to play with the full deck of American talent, these guys were so good as a group that they overrode even that thought. One of them, of course, was Joe. Have you ever heard that he once hit in 56 consecutive games? Both Joe and Dom built careers that ranged from great to good around three years each of interruptive military service. Did that add points here? Yeah.
(John "Jack," Sir Bobby: a collective two World Cup medals, 333 goals both in England and for England, two places in their clubs' all-time XIs in fan balloting all the way into the 21st century)
Sir Bobby, who famously survived the 1958 plane crash in Munich that killed eight Manchester United players and three staff members, has scored more goals for Manchester United and for England than any other player, which on this Earth is about as lofty as it gets. Older brother Jack was a stalwart defender with a glowing run at Leeds before managing three clubs and one national side (Ireland). Most of all, both were members of a team that did something unprecedented and unduplicated: won a World Cup for England, in 1966. We all know the vivid elusiveness of that.
(Maurice "The Rocket," Henri "Pocket Rocket": a collective 40 NHL seasons, 2,234 games, 19 Stanley Cups, 902 goals, 2,011 points, two Hall of Fame spots)
The first became one of the first super-action heroes in all of North American sport, scoring 50 goals in 50 games in 1944-45 and finishing, somehow, with 965 points in 978 games. He scored 82 more goals in playoff games, six in overtimes to close matters. The second brother merely held down the center perch for the Montreal Canadiens through a career that spanned 1955 all the way to 1975, and found his way to 11 skates around the ice with the Stanley Cup, a number that in the history of all the players who have played in the NHL ranks, well, first.
(Darrell, Reggie, Cheryl: a Major League Baseball player, an NBA star in the basketball Hall of Fame and a women's basketball icon in the basketball Hall of Fame)
With Reggie's 25,279 NBA points and his gold medal and his flair for playoff stardom and his place in Springfield, and with Cheryl's three Naismith College Player of the Year awards and her gold medal and her status as an early pioneer and her place in Springfield, the Millers figured to occupy the top 10 anyway. Then you add that a third sibling, Darrell, stayed with the Angels for five years in the 1980s, and you have sport variety, gender variety, the whole deal.
(Peyton, Eli: a collective three Super Bowl titles, four Super Bowl appearances, three Super Bowl MVP awards, 31 playoff games, four NFL MVP awards, 91,014 passing yards)
I don't know if you've noticed this, but it's hard to play NFL quarterback splendidly. And it's hard to find people who can play NFL quarterback splendidly. And if you turn around and look back across the past, you'll see a landscape strewn with capable guys people thought could play NFL quarterback splendidly but could play it only mediocrely or poorly, not that that's a crime against humanity or anything. To have two people from the same family who can master this extremely specialized position toward all that glamour is enough to make somebody doing rankings overcome a mild aversion to over-glamourized quarterbacks.
(Venus, Serena: a collective 22 Grand Slam singles titles, 13 Grand Slam doubles titles, four Grand Slam mixed doubles titles)
They're arguably the greatest American sports story, a story that still deserves wonder in its unlikelihood. The 1978 French Open women's singles seemed starless. In the final, a player never ranked higher than No. 8 but seeded No. 2 (Virginia Ruzici) wound up defeating a player never ranked higher than No. 6 but seeded No. 1 (Mima Jausovec). Yet the TV viewers apparently included an African-American man who learned Ruzici would receive $40,000 for her title and vowed that if he had a daughter or daughters, he would teach them tennis. He had, by the way, zero tennis experience. Into the ensuing century, the two daughters of Richard Williams and his ex-wife not only would make the pro tour but dominate it, claiming 10 of the first 13 Wimbledon singles titles of the 21st century and 22 of the 53 major singles titles played between September 1999 and September 2012.
(Brian, Darryl, Duane, Brent, Rich, Ron: six brothers, a collective 86 NHL playing seasons with six Stanley Cups, a collective seven NHL franchises among four coaches with the current Stanley Cup)
Look, I'm sorry, but there were six of them. I mean, come on.