'They refuse to let each other fold': How New York Jets' Elijah Moore, Philadelphia Eagles' A.J. Brown lift each other up

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets receiver Elijah Moore's life changed on a recruiting visit to Ole Miss in 2017. His player-host was supposed to be DK Metcalf, but they had to call an audible when Metcalf was summoned to the football office on another matter. Moore was passed along to the next man up, A.J. Brown, who invited the Florida high school star into his life. Years later, Moore would help save it.

That first meeting included a long car ride, dinner at a restaurant in Oxford, Mississippi, and an in-depth conversation that lasted into the night. It was low-key, just the way Moore -- not a party guy -- preferred it. Months later, he moved into Brown's apartment -- a precocious freshman and a star junior wide receiver.

A bond was formed -- not the football kind, but a life bond. Admittedly pampered by his mother and grandparents, Moore believed he needed to get away from home to grow up. Rooming with Brown, he learned how to wash his clothes and how to change a tire on his car -- basically, how to take care of himself.

"To see another grown man go through it, too, he became like a big brother," said Moore, one of the top young players on the Jets.

"He knows that I don't let people live with me, but there was just something about him that was different, man," said Brown, who likes to tell people he raised Moore. "His energy, his mindset. If you're around him, you'll see what I'm saying. He lights up the room."

They played one year together at Ole Miss, as Brown and Metcalf turned pro in 2019 and left Moore with the challenge of upholding the school's wide receiver tradition. (Which he did.) Their football paths intersect again Friday night at Lincoln Financial Field, where Moore's Jets and Brown's Philadelphia Eagles meet in the preseason opener for both teams.

In the City of Brotherly Love. So fitting.

Yes, Moore and Brown are that close. They talk every day. They train together in the offseason. Anybody who has seen the viral video after Moore was drafted by the Jets in the second round in 2021 knows their relationship runs deep. You know the video; it's the one in which a sobbing Brown pours his heart out to Moore in a congratulatory pep talk that turns into a Hallmark moment.

Full disclosure: They have those kind of talks all the time, according to Moore.

"I wouldn't even call it a friendship. It's family," he said. "The things we've been through, the things we talk about, it has real substance. That's someone who is connected to me in a way that's more than ... " A brief pause. "He's blood."

"Just watching him grow, and telling me his dreams and goals and aspirations, and they finally came true, I was excited for him because I knew what he was about to do," said Brown, recounting what got him so emotional that day.

Brown was so fond of Moore at Ole Miss that he once gave away a touchdown to him. There was a play called for Brown, but he took himself out and told Moore to go in for him. Moore did -- and scored. That's the highest form of Bro Code.

Their backgrounds and personalities are so different. Moore grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School, a football powerhouse that has produced dozens of NFL players, including Joey and Nick Bosa. In talent-rich South Florida, he was surrounded by elite competition, but he wasn't intimidated.

Moore is ultra-confident, but not in a boastful way. He's a high achiever, a worker, a perfectionist. At the same time, he maintains a vibe so positive that people want to be around him. Brown is the quieter of the two, a small-town kid from Starkville, Mississippi. There's kind of an "Odd Couple" thing going on, but it works for them.

"They uplift each other," said Tevin Allen, a South Florida-based sports movement specialist who trains both players. "When one is down, the other picks him up. It's collaborative. They're definitely the best of friends -- brothers."

Brown, 25, a second-round pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2019, hit the NFL jackpot last offseason, landing a four-year, $100 million contract extension after being traded to the Eagles on draft night. Life was good, but it wasn't always that way. Last November, he opened up about his experience with depression, which included thoughts about taking his own life. He gave a public shoutout to Moore for providing light in the darkest times.

"It was everything," said Brown, recalling Moore' support. "Someone to talk to, someone I could lean on, I could depend on. He's a talker. He's always trying to have a deep talk. He's always so serious. He jokes around, too, but he's always trying to have those long, deep talks and before you know it, we'll be talking for hours. Just talking about life."

"It wasn't me that was speaking to him, it was God speaking through me," said Moore, deflecting the credit. "God does stuff like that. He uses people as vessels. If I could help my brother get through something where he's thinking low or just having thoughts he shouldn't be having, then I want to help. I'm just glad he was listening to me."

Even now, amid the rigors of training camp, they pick each other up. As Allen said, "They refuse to let each other fold." If Moore has a bad practice, he spills it on Brown. And vice versa.

"He just reminds me that I'm strong," Brown said. "He told me the other day -- I was dealing with something -- he was like, 'I don't know why you're tripping. You're strong enough to handle it. We can talk about something else. You've done it before, you'll do it again.' He just reminds me of that -- that with my faith in God, I'm strong enough to handle it."

"If I have a down day in life, I'm going to call A.J.," Moore said. "The way he articulates, it sits well with us."

They both were aware of rumors that the Jets were interested in trading for Brown in the offseason. They followed the buzz on Twitter and talked about it, but not extensively. As much as he'd love to reunite, Moore believes their destiny is to have separate NFL journeys.

"No, I didn't say, 'Come here,' because I want him to be his own person," Moore said.

After a promising but injury-shortened rookie year, Moore seems ready for a breakout season. He believes he has WR1 potential, which he demonstrated from Week 8 to Week 12. In than span, he ranked eighth in receptions (28), sixth in receiving yards (382) and tied for fourth in touchdown receptions (four). Then came a quadriceps injury that cost him the last five games. He finished his rookie season with 43 catches, 538 yards and five touchdowns.

"He has a plan for himself and he's thinking about what he wants his legacy to be, how he wants the story to be written about himself," Jets receivers coach Miles Austin said. "It's a compliment to him to have that present mindset, but also a forward-thinking mindset as well."

Moore's route running, fine-tuned during countless hours of training with Brown, is something to behold. Teammates are amazed by his false acceleration, the ability to make the defender think he's running full speed. That allows him to create nice separation when he breaks off his route.

"He puts his foot in the ground and comes out of breaks better than anyone I've seen," rookie receiver Garrett Wilson observed. "And the way he attacks the ball with his hands -- he just snatches it. It's really impressive."

No one knows that better than Brown, who actually watched Moore's high school highlights before they met on campus. (Moore did his homework on Brown, too.) A year ago, Brown said he'd bet his game checks that Moore would win Offensive Rookie of the Year. When Moore hit a lull in October, it was Brown who fired him up with a pep talk.

"I told him it was all mental," Brown said. "The next week, he goes out there and goes crazy, two touchdowns against the Colts. And I was telling him, 'You can do that every Sunday. You are holding you back.' Ever since then, he's been climbing and evolving and trying to maximize his opportunities."

When they're together, they talk big. They talk about making All-Pro. They talk about the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This isn't new. They've been talking about that stuff since that first day at Ole Miss, where a chance meeting changed both their lives.

ESPN Eagles reporter Tim McManus contributed to this report.