TEMPE, Ariz. – Whenever the Acho brothers were split up on opposing pickup basketball teams as kids in Texas, there was bound to be at least one errant pass from Sam to Emmanuel each game.
Fortunately for Sam, an Arizona Cardinals starting outside linebacker, he didn’t have to think twice about passing to Emmanuel often. Besides the occasional pickup game, the two never played on opposing teams growing up – even through college at the University of Texas.
The fact that they’ve played on the same team since youth soccer -- when Sam was 8 and Emmanuel was 6 -- makes Sunday, when Sam’s Cardinals hosts Emmanuel’s Eagles, so unique.
“I’ll be more excited than anything,” Sam Acho said. “I’m so proud of him. I’m so proud of what he’s been able to accomplish if you look at the journey he’s been on.”
The two are still close, and make sure they text before every game. It’s usually something short and simple like: “Hey man, I’m praying for you. Ball out today. Do your thing. Love you, bro,” Sam said. They won’t need to text Sunday morning. Sam said the pregame message will given when the two get together Saturday night.
While they talk four or five times a week, the brothers Acho had different roads to the NFL. Sam was drafted in the fourth round in 2011 and made an immediate impact in his first two seasons before a broken fibula ended his 2013 season after three games. After suffering a quad injury at the NFL combine in 2012, Emmanuel was drafted in the sixth round by the Cleveland Browns. A knee injury suffered that preseason landed him on injured reserve for his rookie season. He was traded to the Eagles the following April, then was released that September and signed to the New York Giants practice squad about a week later.
In October 2013, Emmanuel Acho was signed off the Giants practice squad by the Eagles, who waived him in December but re-signed him to the practice squad the next day. He was released this August, re-signed to the practice squad a day later and then promoted to the active roster after Week 1. He’s since started one of five games for Philadelphia, totaling 17 tackles.
Sam has 18 tackles this season.
It’s a safe bet that Emmanuel is well aware that he has one fewer tackle than his older brother in one fewer game.
“He’s definitely the more competitive one,” Sam said. “I was the guy who said, ‘Hey, I just want to play. I want to have fun.”
Whether it was driveway basketball or the Madden video game, Emmanuel’s competitive streak was always on display. Sam said if his younger brother was losing at Madden – which wasn’t often – he’d turn it off midgame. Or if Sam ran up a big lead in the driveway, Emmanuel would put the ball down and storm off.
“So, I would start letting him get closer,” Sam said. “If I was up too much, I’d start sandbagging a little bit, but yeah, he’s definitely more competitive.”
That’s not to say Sam isn’t. When he talked to his mother, Christie, this week, she mentioned, “We're coming up to play the Cardinals this weekend.”
Sam noticed right away.
“I was like, ‘We? Who is we?’” Sam said with a laugh.
As he found out, his parents alternate daily between using “we” to identify with the Cardinals and the Eagles.
On Sunday, however, they Sonny and Christie Acho won’t need to decide one way or the other. Sam said his mother will be wearing a custom-tailored Acho jersey – Cardinals in the front, Eagles in the back.
“People will think they’re kind of confused,” Sam said.
But his parents will know exactly who they’re cheering for.