DETROIT -- Early in the morning, around 6 a.m. Pacific time, John Brown’s phone rang.
It was his older sister, delivering the devastating news that his younger sister, Yolandra “Loni” Brown, had died unexpectedly on Aug. 31.
An hour later, that same morning, he received a group message notification from his eldest son, Equanimeous St. Brown, telling his parents and two siblings some more disheartening news: He had been waived by the Green Bay Packers.
“I just want to let you guys know I got released,” Equanimeous texted. “Don’t worry about me too much. I’m OK.”
It was also the 57th birthday of Miriam, John's wife.
“That was the worst day of my life,” John recalled.
He couldn’t get out of bed for two days.
Eventually, John picked himself up and is now preparing to make the trip to Lambeau Field for Monday Night Football when the Detroit Lions face the Packers (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).
The contest marks an unexpected division rivalry within the family, with Amon-Ra St. Brown being a promising rookie receiver for the Lions while Equanimeous, now signed to Green Bay’s practice squad, is looking to make an active NFL roster.
“It’s a good feeling, we’re proud of them,” John Brown said.
The game also signifies a culmination of the vision Brown had for his sons, since the former two-time Mr. Universe and three-time Mr. World prepped his three boys -- Equanimeous, Osiris and Amon-Ra -- for a national stage at an early age.
“It’s gonna be dope. Exciting,” Amon-Ra told ESPN. “Obviously, I wish my brother was on the active roster so I could play against him, but even still, just watching my brother play in Green Bay the last three years and finally getting a chance to play against Aaron Rodgers, guys who I have watched my whole life ... Davante Adams, a great receiver, and going against my brother is going to be dope.”
Bond of brothers
Despite living nearly 300 miles apart and having different schedules with their respective teams, Amon-Ra and Equanimeous found time to bond during training camp.
They often competed in video games such as Call of Duty or FIFA, rarely ever talking football and using that time to unwind.
“The Packers, their schedule is a little different than the Lions,” Amon-Ra noted. “He would get out earlier than we did, like a lot of the days. He would tell me to get on and I would still have meetings so just little things like that.”
Equanimeous did bring up football when news of a fight at Lions practice traveled to Green Bay via social media. On the first day of Lions padded practices, during the special-teams period, an open-field blocking drill pitted Amon-Ra against fellow rookie cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu. With neither refusing to back down, action got heated and punches eventually flew.
“You’ve got to stand up for yourself,” Equanimeous said. “Some coaches don’t mind fighting, some coaches don’t like it, but it’s football. It’s a physical sport. S--- happens. He’s my brother so I know he ain’t gonna back down from nothing.”
Growing up inside the same household in Orange County, California, Equanimeous and their middle brother, Osiris, a former receiver at Stanford University, would dominate young Amon-Ra in all sports.
“That kind of always fueled his competitiveness,” Osiris said of Amon-Ra. “I feel like being around us all the time, we’ve always been older and stronger, so he always had to push harder to try and keep up with us, whether it be lifting, basketball or anything.”
Fighting for respect
Two days after his NFL debut against the San Francisco 49ers, Amon-Ra used his off day to explore downtown Detroit with his visiting parents and girlfriend.
“It felt like another preseason game, just more fans,” Amon-Ra said of the Week 1 loss.
The Lions are high on Amon-Ra. He was targeted by quarterback Jared Goff four times vs. the 49ers, catching two passes for 23 yards, but that could change in Week 2.
“Look, Amon-Ra [St. Brown] did a good job, but it was Amon-Ra’s first NFL football game against a very good team, good defense,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “So, he’s no different than all of those other guys. It’s something to build off of. I thought he really competed. I thought he fought. There are just so many little details to it he’s got to clean up in his game and so does [Quintez] Cephus and really so does all of those guys.”
Things are different for Equanimeous in Green Bay. He is on the practice squad after being on the team for the past three seasons. While Amon-Ra is on the field Monday night, Equanimeous will have to watch from the sidelines or up in a booth.
“Every day, it’s a reminder,” Equanimeous said. “Every time I go to my locker it’s in a different location so I’ve just got to prove myself and work harder. All I can do is ball out until they give me my chance again.”
It’s also a reminder for Amon-Ra that -- although reaching the NFL was the brothers' lifelong passion -- football is also a job.
“I was pissed, too, when it happened, but it keeps me always working hard because it’s a business here at the next level and next year they’re always gonna find someone to replace me whether that’s drafting someone or picking someone up, trading somebody,” Amon-Ra said.
‘Either way, we’re winners’
Detroit (0-1) has a big opportunity ahead to hand a seemingly vulnerable Green Bay squad a second straight loss. The Packers haven’t started 0-2 since 2006 -- which is the second-longest active streak to the New England Patriots.
Green Bay lost 38-3 to the New Orleans Saints in Week 1, but Rodgers, the reigning MVP, has won seven straight games on Monday Night Football as a starter.
The Lions have dropped four in a row to Green Bay, but they have a few new fans cheering them on with the youngest of the St. Brown brothers now in the mix.
“For me, it’s clear. I’m rooting for the Detroit Lions. No question about it,” Miriam said, smiling. “Because [Amon-Ra] is playing and the other one is not playing. It’s simple.”
“Either way, we’re winners,” added John.