Sewell, St. Brown brothers to reunite in Lions-Bears game

DETROIT -- A smile crept across the face of Detroit Lions offensive lineman Penei Sewell while seated at his locker at the team's practice facility.

He'd been shown a family photo, taken around 2004, of him hugging his younger brother, Noah, around the neck, the two siblings posing cheek-to-cheek.

"Super close. That picture right there it just kind of brings me back to all the memories we had on the island," Penei Sewell told ESPN. "It's just crazy how it is to be where I'm at right now and always those talks of just 'what team you like?' or 'what [football] team you think you're going to go to?'

"Not even thinking about college, it was straight league [NFL] and it's crazy," he continued, laughing. "It brings me back to the moments we were in the backyard playing with a water bottle as a football and just going at it. It brings back a lot of great memories."

The Sewell brothers have since graduated from creating makeshift footballs from plastic bottles filled with sand and some water in the backyard to now facing each other for the first time as NFL players.

When the Lions host the Chicago Bears at Ford Field on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox), it'll be the first time the brothers have shared a football field since their high school days in Utah, in 2017.

This moment is part of the family's dreams coming to fruition. It's the latest chapter of a lifelong football journey that led them to move from American Samoa to the United States in 2012, to position them to receive a college scholarship and ultimately reach the professional ranks.

Penei and Noah Sewell, a Bears linebacker, narrowly missed playing together in college at Oregon when Noah was a freshman and Penei opted out of his junior season due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

"Football has been life to us. Ever since we were little, if I can remember anything, my dad's been coaching the game. And ever since he's been coaching the game, I've always been on his right hip with me and my brothers," Penei said. "We always tried to compete always, whether it's just bag drills, ladder drills, or even just running in a straight line -- we were always competing.

"I think that created an edge for us and then also coming from American Samoa where it's just not that many opportunities at all so that also plays a factor in why we do what we do."

They won't be the only brothers on the field together Sunday. The St. Brown brothers, Amon-Ra and Equanimeous, will compete against each other for the fifth time as pros. Lions teammates Romeo and Julian Okwara round out the group, making three sets of siblings set for action.

In NFL history, there have been two games featuring three different sets of siblings. Both occurred in 1979 in games between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals, which featured Matt and Chris Bahr, Jim and Ross Browner, and Archie and Ray Griffin, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"It's cool, it's fun, but it's always like a celebration," Lions receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown said. "You really just get to have fun out there. I have fun during the game. It feels like it's not even a game out there for me. It's like a practice, but it's a lot of fun."

THE MOMENT ISN'T foreign to Gabe Sewell Sr. He recently watched his sons Nephi, 24, and Noah, 22, battle for the first time when Nephi's New Orleans Saints beat the Noah's Bears, 24-17 in Week 9.

Gabe Sr. was in attendance for game at Caesars Superdome, but won't be making Sunday's trip due to his coaching responsibilities in Hawaii. However, he and his wife Arlene will be watching in custom shirts with images of Noah and Penei that read: "Legacy Family Over Everything."

The family is planning to be in attendance in Week 13 when Penei faces Nephi in New Orleans before playing against Noah again at Chicago for Week 14.

The Sewells are the only active set of three-or-more brothers in the NFL. Overall, there's been more than 60 sets of three-or-more brothers to play in the league, with one of the more recent trios being J.J., Derek and T.J. Watt.

"My whole take on it, my wife and I, are when our sons play against each other, I can really give two s---s who wins. I swear," Gabe Sr. said. "I'm all about praying that they come out healthy and the way I really look at it, the fact that I've got two sons playing each other on Sunday, we've already won. So, I'm usually very verbal and loud at games, but when they play against each other, I'm quiet. I just sit back and watch them play."

The first time Gabe Sr. watched his kids face each other was in college when Gabe Jr., who played at Nevada, faced Penei, at Oregon, on Sept. 7, 2019.

Gabe Sr. gave them specific blocking and tackling instructions to help them come out of the game healthy.

The Sewell family grew up in the small village of Malaeimi, American Samoa on an island which, Penei says, you can drive end-to-end in 45 minutes.

As a kid in Malaeimi, Penei and his brothers were always around football. Over the years, they carried football bags for Gabe Sr,'s practices and set up the cones for conditioning drills. They say being around the sport helped them develop a high football IQ at a young age.

Gabe Sr. equipped his boys with the basic knowledge of the game and fundamentals, while Arlene balanced it out with an emphasis on academics.

Arlene is currently the chief information officer at BYU Hawaii, and Gabe Sr. coaches the offensive lineman at Kahuku High & Intermediate School in Hawaii.

"They spent a lot of hours studying their craft and just doing everything they needed to do. Their dream was the NFL," Gabe Sr. said. "My goal was to get a free education. Honestly, you can ask my wife, but they were determined and they were focused."

Inside their home, everything was competitive.

"We were all trying to figure out who was the best Sewell in the household," Noah said. "Shoot, I believe we were in grade school and me and Penei were on opposite teams playing football and I got him good, and it started to turn into a fight. This was at school during lunch time around fourth grade back on the islands."

FOLLOWING THE SEASON-OPENING victory at the Kansas City Chiefs, Gabe Sr. approached John Brown, the father of Amon-Ra and Equanimeous St. Brown, while walking out of Arrowhead Stadium.

The dads were walking in the same direction to find a Rideshare area to catch an Uber. Gabe Sr. asked Brown who'd made the split jerseys he'd seen him wear to represent both of his sons.

"He knew about Noah in Chicago, so he said I had two kids, then I said 'Yeah, that's great, but I've got a third one.' And he goes, 'What you say?'" Gabe Sr. said. "And I told him he plays for the Saints and one more older son that plays in the USFL. So, we talked about family and the journey in our first conversation."

Both fathers also found common ground in the discipline they'd instilled their sons.

"I was lucky to have a dad and a brother, and we would put in a lot of extra work," Equanimeous St. Brown told ESPN. "To make it to this level, everyone's putting in a lot of extra work. You can't just go to practice and go home. That's not gonna cut it."

The St. Brown brothers have faced off four times in their NFL careers, with Amon-Ra holding a 3-1 edge, but the experience never gets old.

"I know it sounds weird, but it feels kind of normal now to go against him," Amon-Ra said. "I remember my first time, my rookie year, Monday night in Green Bay for Week 2, I played against him and that was the best game ever for me because finally I'm in the league, he was on the Packers, it was Monday night and my whole family was there, but now it's like routine. We play him twice a year, I'm ready to play against him and it's just fun."

The Lions (7-2) are off to a hot start. They have won six straight divisional games going back to last season, which is tied for Detroit's longest win streak in divisional games since the 1970 merger.

A win Sunday would give the Lions their best 10-game start since 1962.

But in the midst of the sibling showdown, the families are able to keep everything in perspective.

"This is what we've all been dreaming about since the beginning," Penei Sewell said.