McDermott brothers ascend on different sports tracks

By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 28, 2009

For years, the back door of Sean McDermott's office at Philadelphia Eagles headquarters was adorned with Sports Business Journal's annual list of the top 40 sports leaders under the age of 40. McDermott's older brother, Tim, had shown him the list, and Sean had this idea that they could simultaneously crack the top 40.

"Knowing what it takes to get there, to have two of the same last names, two brothers on that list would be pretty impressive," Sean McDermott said this week. "We're a very driven family, wanting to be the best at what we do. So why not shoot for the best?"

It's an attitude that has helped the brothers rapidly ascend two very different slopes of the sports landscape. Tim, 37, focused on the business side; he is now in his fourth year as senior vice president and chief marketing officer for the Washington Capitals. Sean, 35, concentrated on the playing field; he's halfway through his first season as the Eagles' defensive coordinator, leading the NFL's eighth-ranked unit.

Which, considering the fierce rivalry between Philadelphia and Washington in both sports, has led to some odd loyalties. Tim McDermott, who will be in the stands at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday when the Eagles face the Redskins, often watches the Eagles in D.C. area sports bars. During his brother's first few games as defensive coordinator -- a job he assumed this summer because of the failing health of longtime coach Jim Johnson -- Tim McDermott's cheers and groans drew stares.

"I think probably people thought I was a super fan or really into fantasy football or something," he said. "I get so nervous for him, I really do."

Sean McDermott, meantime, finds himself one of the few Capitals fans in Philadelphia, which can be especially awkward during the playoffs.

"I'm always in my heart a Flyers fan, but when it comes to family and the blood, sweat and tears my brother's put into it, I've got to go with the Capitals," he said. "When I'm down there at the games, my wife was looking at me like I'm crazy. I had my red on, and I was getting into it. I'm just like a little kid when I'm at those games."

United by sports

In fact, the brothers have been joined in sports since they were little kids, watching their father coach college football at Ursinus and West Chester, visiting Eagles training camp, and sharing backyard football fields. Both brothers wrestled competitively, including in the family living room; "Mom and Dad would go crazy," Tim said. Both starred at football, playing quarterback, safety, kicker and punter in high school, and spending a year as teammates, when Sean also served as Tim's holder.

"That wasn't my only job, but Tim was most comfortable with me, so I just became the holder," Sean said. "It was an honor. Tim was the captain, and I was just a young, raw, very green high school football player."

After graduating from Cornell, where he was a punter and place kicker, Tim wrote a letter to an executive with the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars, asking for advice on breaking into the industry. Soon, he was driving a 1980 Dodge known as the "Wheels of Steel" from his parents' home outside Philadelphia to Jacksonville, where he started as a six-month intern in football operations, working on salary cap details and travel arrangements and earning $300 a week.

After his internship, he was offered and accepted a full-time job in the team's business offices. One of his supervisors there soon joined the Eagles and hired Sean -- still in school at William & Mary, where he walked onto the football team and eventually became an all-conference safety -- as a marketing intern.

"It just provided me a great opportunity to get my foot in the door, which is very hard to come by for young adults coming out of college," Sean said. "Just like a typical little brother, everything Tim did I wanted to do, and do it right then."

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