A TALE OF COUSINS: JOEY AND PADRAIG

So we have a Harrington and they have a Harrington. Ours throws a big ol’ football. Theirs hits a tiny little golf ball. Ours gets tackled by huge defensive linemen. Theirs has someone carry his bag. Ours has to holler signals as 80,000 bloodthirsty fans scream for his destruction. Theirs can stop and glare if somebody burps.

But once upon a time, our Harrington, Joey, and their Harrington, Padraig, were but future generations of a single family that lived in Ireland and could only dream that one grandson and one great grandson would one day turn out this … athletic.

“Have you ever seen your cousin, Padraig, throw a football?” I asked Joey, the Lions’ starting quarterback, during his visit to Ryder Cup practice Tuesday at Oakland Hills Country Club.

“Once,” he said. “We were down in Augusta for the Masters and he invited me over to the house he was staying at, and they had a Nerf football there. He threw it. He looked … a little awkward.”

So there it is. The United States will win the Ryder Cup.

Well, OK, maybe that’s a bit of a leap. But everyone around here is getting patriotically jazzed for the weekend’s competition — America versus Europe — everyone except perhaps the Harrington jocks, who project a sort of Kennedy clan thing — big smiles, good hair — and even seem to be a reflection of one another: pleasant, polite, serious about his work. Both are rising stars. Joey is one of the top young quarterbacks in the NFL. Padraig is the top golfer in Europe.

Oh, and both have brothers. Joey has his younger brothers, Michael and Nick, and Padraig has his older brothers, and their names are as follows:

Tadhg, Columb, Fintan and Fergal.

So America will win the Ryder Cup.

Inside the ropes

On Tuesday, the Lions’ off day, Joey went to follow his cousin around during his practice round. At one point, Padraig spotted Joey and said, “Come on out” — although with his Irish brogue it might have sounded like “cumenawht” — and just like that, Harrington and Dominic Raiola, the Lions’ center, were walking the course with cousin Padraig.

Now, I personally enjoy the image of Raiola, who is nearly 300 pounds of tersely packed Hawaiian muscle, rambling along the pristine Oakland Hills fairways, as a groundskeeper scurries behind him to fill in the divots of his footprints. But the Lions players were too impressed to notice. In fact, if you want to know how to get an NFL quarterback excited, here it is: lift the rope.

“Today might have been one of the biggest sports thrills of my life,” Joey said, nearly gushing. “We walked the last five holes. We were under the ropes. I can tell my dad this weekend — ‘Well, Dad, you know, on 18, a putt might break a little to the left because when I was standing there inside the ropes with 20,000 people watching me, I felt that the green was moving that way.’ “

He smiled and sighed. I thought he might faint with happiness. Maybe he should walk Padraig to the line of scrimmage, you know, just to return the favor. I’m thinking Friday morning, before the Ryder Cup starts. Just let Master P take a snap or two, against a blitz. See what happens, you know?

But not on Sunday

Here are a few more similarities between the Harrington cousins: Both started young in their sports. Both like to talk — and not just about golf. Both finished their education (Joey graduated from Oregon, Padraig became an accountant before turning pro). Both have dark hair, although Padraig has recently dyed his blonde.

“I told him our great-grandfather would roll over in his grave,” Joey said.

When someone asked Padraig to compare their two sports, he laughed.

Joey and I “have sort of competition,” the golfing Harrington said. “We’re going to see if he can hit a wedge better than I can throw an American football. But we’re not going to tell each other how we did, so the bet can sort of go on.”

Hmm. Must be a new sort of Irish wagering system.

Anyhow, we have a Harrington and they have a Harrington and there they were Tuesday, walking side by side, like Jack and Bobby, along the golf course — with their 300-pound bodyguard, Raiola, following in step.

For what it’s worth, Joey, 25, says he’s rooting for America to win, but he wants Padraig, 33, to do well — which, from what we understand about Ryder Cup rules, seems entirely possible. Still, when the rubber meets the road, this Sunday, in the final day of competition, the one-on-one matches, in which Padraig has performed well in the past, Joey won’t be there. He’ll be busy taking snaps at Ford Field, trying to defeat Houston.

Which is as nature meant it to be.

Not that Joey was thinking about that Tuesday.

“You know what’s incredible?” Joey said. “Golf is a sport that everybody tries to play but nobody plays well. You go out and see all the hacks on the courses, they’re trying to swing their brains out, who can hit it the farthest. And then you watch guy like my cousin and it’s so … effortless. It’s just a pure turn, fluid motion, great tempo, and the ball jumps off their club and they control it so well. It’s like they have a little string on the ball when its up in the air and they can tug it to the right or the left and bring it down and give it backspin.”

He sighed again. “It’s incredible.”

Yeah, yeah. Let’s see Padraig run a double reverse.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com

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