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Three hands, two brothers: The inspiration behind Seahawks CB Shaquill Griffin

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For UCF twins, 3 hands is more than enough (3:57)

Twins Shaquill and Shaquem Griffin play football at UCF. Born 60 seconds apart, they are identical in every way but one: Shaquem has just one hand. (3:57)

All Seattle Seahawks rookie cornerback Shaquill Griffin can remember is frantic screaming and crying that started in the hallway and made its way to the kitchen.

Everything else, he says, is a blur.

Shaquill and his twin brother, Shaquem, were 4 years old and had just settled into their usual spots for bedtime that June night in St. Petersburg, Florida. Shaquill was on the top bunk and Shaquem on the bottom.

Around 1 a.m., Shaquem got up, exited their room and made two right turns. The pain in his left hand had become too much, and he was going to do something about it.

"As he's grabbing the knife, I grabbed it out of his hand. And he said, 'Just cut them off! I just want to cut them off! I can't take it! It hurts! Cut it off!'"

Tangie Griffin

Shaquem suffered from amniotic band syndrome, and the five fingers in his left hand hadn't formed fully. Often when Shaquem would catch a ball awkwardly, lean against the wall or bump into his bed frame, he felt a sharp pain in his fingers.

"It's something that you can’t forget," Shaquill said nearly 18 years later.

The twins' mom, Tangie, often asked God to take the pain away from her little boy and pass it to her. She didn't know what else to do.

That night, she heard Shaquem take off toward the kitchen, and she jumped out of bed. But Shaquem was fast. She heard the drawers opening and closing as she ran after him. Tangie found her son with a knife in his hand.

"As he’s grabbing the knife, I grabbed it out of his hand," Tangie said. "And he said, ‘Just cut them off! I just want to cut them off! I can’t take it! It hurts! Cut it off!'

"And I just grabbed him and was holding him. I’m crying, and he’s crying. His Dad [Terry] is just trying to hold his tears back."

Shaquill didn't know if he should hide underneath the covers or get up and see what was going on. He stayed put.

The next morning, Shaquem didn't go to preschool with Shaquill. Instead, Tangie and Terry took him to the hospital to have his fingers removed.

"When it got to the point where it was so bad that I saw him literally grab a knife to cut his hand off, I knew at that point, it was time to do something," Tangie said.

Added Shaquem, "I guess I kind of gave a hint to my mom."

Shaquem doesn't remember much about the surgery. One minute, he was pulling his red wagon down the hospital hallway. The next, he was waking up with his hand bandaged. A day later, Shaquem was outside playing football with his brother.

"Ever since that procedure, he’s been able to do everything else anyone could do," Shaquill said.

'We weren't going to let anybody separate us'

Shaquill and Shaquem formulated a plan around the age of 10. They would go to high school and college together. They'd marry another set of twins. They'd pool their money to buy a house and live in it together with their families.

Tangie never believed they were serious until Shaquill started getting recruited heavily in high school.

"I started having some of the coaches calling me and saying, 'Hey, we’re offering Shaquill, but he’s telling me if we don’t offer Shaquem, he’s not interested,'" Tangie said. "And I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ That’s when it hit me that they are really serious about this."

Shaquill had always been protective of Shaquem. Growing up, Shaquem would joke about why he was missing a left hand. When people asked, he'd tell them he was fishing with his dad, and a shark bit it off.

Humor didn't work for Shaquill. He constantly wondered why everyone was staring, pointing and whispering. When a little girl in preschool said Shaquem had a "pickle hand," Shaquill hit her, and Tangie had to come pick him up early.

As such, it probably shouldn't have surprised anyone when Shaquill turned down offers from bigger-name programs because he wasn't going anywhere without his brother.

"People have to understand, whatever ‘Quem went through, ‘Quill was a part of that," Tangie said. "Regardless of ‘Quill having both hands and ‘Quem having one, it was still the same level of pain and concerns and all of that. Everything ‘Quem went through, ‘Quill went through it right there on the side of him."

But for three years at Central Florida, their plan wasn't working out. Shaquem couldn't get on the field. Did Central Florida offer him a scholarship just to get Shaquill? Did the coaches think Shaquem was incapable of succeeding because he had only one hand?

From 2013 to 2015, whenever Tangie's phone rang with a call from one of the boys, she said a prayer before answering because she knew what was coming.

"I knew that it was going to be something that they’re bothered by or something that they’re upset about or something that had happened," Tangie said. "Every time that I picked up the phone. And we’re talking three years of that. So it was really tough."

Added Shaquill: "The first couple years were tough. Seeing him go through that. I couldn’t really do too much about it because it’s the coaches’ choice. But it was tough for him. The only thing he did was listen to me and put his faith in that something was going to happen. Something greater was going to come.

"He believed in that. It almost got to the point where he wanted to give up football for good. It’s tough going through that, feeling like you’re never going to get a shot to play. And he finally did. He had faith in it. Now it’s one of the bigger stories in college football."

Even when they discussed the idea of transferring, it was going to be together. But they decided to stay, and in Shaquem's first year as a starting outside linebacker, he piled up 11.5 sacks, 20 tackles for loss and an interception, earning American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors.

"Every decision that we tried to make, it was a decision for both of us -- not just oneself," Shaquill said. "And that’s kind of how we grew up together.

"We weren’t going to let anybody separate us. I'm glad I made the decision that I did to stay in Orlando with him and play football with him. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made."

Playing through each other

When Shaquill walks onto Lambeau Field Sept. 10 for the Seahawks' opener against the Green Bay Packers, it will be the first game in his life that he'll play without Shaquem, who will suit up against Memphis the day before.

The twins won't be able to go through their usual pregame ritual of FaceTiming their parents and saying a prayer before kickoff. But they insist that they'll be playing through each other that weekend.

"He’s just inspired me to never make excuses," Shaquill said. "And not small excuses that I could think of. But just understanding that someone could really be going through something way worse than I am. Any time I feel sorry for myself, he helps to remind me that there’s always someone that could be going through something worse."

Said Shaquem: "Just to never quit. He always just told me if I feel like I can do it, just do it. Don’t let anybody tell you what you can’t do. And that’s something that I ran with. Even the years that I didn’t play at UCF, when he was playing, he was playing for me. And that’s the whole thing. Even when we’re in different states, we’re always going to play for each other. We’re always going to be right there in spirit."

Shaquill, who was drafted by the Seahawks in the third round, didn't play much press coverage in college and will have to pick up the Seahawks' technique. But coach Pete Carroll raved about him after rookie camp, and Shaquill has a chance to carve out a role as a rookie with a strong performance this summer. Shaquem, meanwhile, will look to take on more of a leadership role at Central Florida.

At one point, Shaquem thought the Miami Dolphins were going to select Shaquill. He would have been closer to home. But now, Tangie and Terry will have to decide how to plan out their weekends so that they can watch both boys play.

Maybe at this time next year, that planning will be easier.

"It will be amazing to see if they’re both on the same team at some point again," Tangie said. "It would be amazing."