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."
After a year as a graduate assistant at William & Mary, Sean headed back to the Eagles, but this time as a football assistant. Tim, meantime, remained on the business side of sports, working for the San Diego Chargers and later joining Sean as the senior director of marketing with the Eagles.
Their lifestyles were significantly different -- Tim would get to work in the morning knowing Sean had already been there for hours, if he hadn't slept in his office. So were their responsibilities: Sean was coaching the secondary during the Eagles' trip to Super Bowl XXXIX, while Tim was responsible for planning a potential victory parade in Philadelphia. Still, they relished working together for their hometown team.
"One of the best times we've ever had," Tim McDermott remembered. "We really didn't have a whole lot of opportunity to interact, but I will say nonetheless it was pretty special to be able to be within the same company, within the same team going to the Super Bowl. And to be sitting there in the stands with my parents watching my brother on the sidelines, and all kind of part of the same football family, that was pretty special."I-95, the tie that binds
Even though Tim has since switched both sports and cities, they remain close. The families spent Thanksgiving together at Sean's home, and Tim frequently types up his football observations for his brother.
"Then I hit send, and I think to myself, he knows so much more than me, he probably reads it and is just like, 'Tim, this is like kindergarten,' " Tim McDermott said with a laugh. "But I don't know, he's my brother, so I guess I just feel like in the event that I can offer any advice, what the heck, I might as well."
"I mean, he's amazing," Sean said with a laugh of his own. "As much as he's on the business side, he's always sending me things, not only leadership-wise but also scheme-wise. It's all good. I take the good and filter the bad as they say, but it's mostly good."
And what's next? Well, the Forty Under 40 list is still out there, as is the possibility that they could once again share a work address. Sean said they've discussed how neat it would be for Tim to run an organization from the business side while Sean led the football operations. Until then, they'll continue to cheer for each other's teams, and for each other.
"I mean, here's a guy that literally started as an intern and has worked his way up, and just showed that if you've got heart and dedication and drive and determination, you can accomplish a lot of great things," Tim McDermott said of his brother. "I couldn't be more proud of him. It's awesome to see."