Bloodlines run deep throughout NFL

Several years ago, a television crew visited the sprawling Gronkowski home just outside Buffalo.

It was a feature about the family's three brothers -- Rob, Chris and Dan -- who were all playing for NFL teams at the time.

"Like to think someday we can get four," said father Gordie, pointing to his fourth son, Glenn, who was foraging in the refrigerator. "He's a good little athlete."

He was only a skinny senior at Williamsville North High School, but Glenn already had accumulated more athletic trophies than any of his brothers. Today, he's a 6-foot-3, 234-pound sophomore fullback at Kansas State. You might have seen his highlight catch, a 62-yard touchdown that helped sink Oklahoma.

If Glenn eventually makes an NFL roster, that would be an impressive feat, but the Matthews family would still have the Gronkowskis beat. Seven Matthewses spanning across three generations already have played in the NFL. And there are two more -- Mike, a center at Texas A&M, and 14-year-old brother Luke -- who could well join them.

"Nine guys from one family -- that would be mind-boggling," said Joe Horrigan, the Pro Football Hall of Fame's vice president of communications. "People don't generally know this, but we have a rich history of brothers and fathers playing in this league."

Believe it or not, there are no fewer than 14 sets of brothers currently playing in the NFL. Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots' gifted tight end, isn't among them; his brothers are out of the league.

The most accomplished active brothers, of course, are Peyton and Eli Manning, the quarterbacks for the Broncos and Giants, who have combined to win three Super Bowls and three Super Bowl MVP awards -- along with Peyton's five regular-season MVP awards. Their father, Archie, played quarterback for the Saints, Oilers and Vikings from 1971-84.

This year they were joined by the Vereen brothers. Shane plays running back for the Patriots, and younger brother Brock, a strong safety, was a fourth-round draft choice of the Bears. They played against each other on Oct. 26, a 51-23 Patriots win. Shane touched the ball eight times and gained 45 yards. Brock had one tackle -- not of his brother -- and the two exchanged jerseys after the game.

The Browner family was twice as prolific. Four brothers -- Ross, Jim, Joey and Keith -- all played in the NFL in the 1980s, three of them simultaneously.

And that's not even close to the record. The Nesser brothers stand alone in that respect.

Al played for the Akron Pros in 1921, and five other Nesser brothers -- Frank, Fred, John, Phil and Ted -- played for the Columbus Panhandles the same year. It was a traveling team; getting to games didn't cost anything because they all worked for the railroad. Ted had a son, Charles, who also played at least one game for Columbus, marking the very first NFL father-son combination. Ted was also the Panhandles' coach -- and partial to playing family members.

To close, we return to the amazing Gronkowskis.

"It's like hitting the lottery," said Gordie, who played defensive line at Syracuse.

Turns out, the odds are even more astronomical.

At the time, two Yale University students fluent in math attempted to determine the odds of placing three children simultaneously on NFL rosters. One came up with one in 31 million, while the second calculated one in 19.6 million.

With the holiday break coming up and finals not far away, we didn't have the heart to call the Yale math department to update the numbers regarding the Matthews family. Seven players from three generations in the NFL and two more possibly on the way -- it would take more than a beautiful mind or two to crunch those numbers.