TOMORROW afternoon, Sonny and Christie Acho will occupy the same seats they always do when they attend Arizona Cardinals' home games, in the players' family section at University of Phoenix Stadium.
They shouldn't prove difficult to spot. Just look for the only parents wearing midnight green and Cardinals red.
"I haven't decided [what to wear], but definitely the Eagles will be represented, maybe in the shirt and Arizona maybe in the hat," Sonny Acho said by phone the other night. "And maybe I will switch during halftime. I don't know what I'm going to do yet. Still thinking through it."
After years of playing only as teammates, first at the St. Mark's School of Texas in Dallas, then at the University of Texas, Emmanuel and Sam Acho will compete as opponents for the first time tomorrow. Sam, 26 months his brother's elder, is a fourth-year outside linebacker with the Cardinals. Emmanuel, of course, is a third-year inside linebacker with the Eagles.
Emmanuel is one of five current Eagles players with brothers in the NFL; the others are center Jason Kelce, tight end Brent Celek, linebacker Casey Matthews and cornerback Jaylen Watkins. As of the start of last season, the NFL had documented 364 sets of brothers to play in the league.
Oddly enough, the Achos aren't the only brothers facing off for the first time tomorrow; the New England-Chicago game pits Shane Vereen, the Patriots' running back, against Brock Vereen, a rookie safety with the Bears. Casey and Clay Matthews are slated to meet on the field for the second time in as many seasons when the Eagles visit the Packers on Nov. 16.
Emmanuel, 23, and Sam, 26, each considers the other his best friend. They speak practically every day. On a normal game week, their conversations will include X's and O's - the Eagles played the Redskins before the Cardinals this season and the Cardinals played the Giants and 49ers before the Eagles - but that has been off the table this week.
"It will be a little awkward, because I'm used to playing with him," Emmanuel said. "At Texas, we played together for 3 years [from 2008-10]. I was giving him the calls, him being a d-lineman, me being at the Mike 'backer. So it will be a little different seeing him in another uniform. I've got to hide any emotions if he does well on the field. But it will be fun."
For the second consecutive season, the Eagles' first game after their bye comes against the Cardinals. When the teams met last Dec. 1 at Lincoln Financial Field, Sam was on injured reserve with a broken fibula and Emmanuel was among the Eagles' seven inactive players for the game.
When Emmanuel learned he would not play that day, he walked out onto the field, where he found his brother and posed for a photo. Tomorrow's pregame meeting will carry added meaning. Not only are both set to play this time, but both of their teams are 5-1, both riding high after consecutive wins.
"It is a difficult one, because if you've been watching both teams, both teams are doing well," said Sonny, who with his wife, alternates attending Eagles and Cardinals game each week. "Honestly, I do not know what is going to happen."
The Achos, who started together on the Texas' defense that lost to Alabama in the 2010 national title game, have experienced far different NFL careers. A fourth-round draft pick in 2011, Sam got off to a hot start, as a rookie recording seven sacks and a team-high four forced fumbles. He started all 16 games the next season, tallying four sacks.
After losing most of the 2013 campaign to a leg injury, Sam started slowly this season, but has performed well the past couple of weeks. Last Sunday marked his first start of the season. Emmanuel noted that his brother, who is playing in a contract year, is "starting to get into the rhythm, but hopefully we can do a good job containing him at least for this week."
Emmanuel, conversely, was out of a job, albeit briefly, as recently as Aug. 29. Falling victim to the Eagles' final round of preseason cuts, he was brought back to the Eagles' practice squad. Najee Goode's pectoral injury in the season opener opened a spot on the active roster, and when Mychal Kendricks strained his calf a week later, Emmanuel was thrust into a much larger role. He made his first NFL start against the Redskins and, over the last four games, has split first-team snaps with Casey Matthews.
"It's been unbelievable, and all that Emmanuel's ever really needed is just a chance," Sam said this week by phone from the Cardinals' facility in Tempe. "All he's needed is a shot. He knows what he can do."
Tomorrow afternoon, Emmanuel's role in the game will hinge on Kendricks' availability. Depending on whether he rotates taking starter reps with Matthews or backs up Kendricks, Emmanuel will play on two or three of the Eagles' four special-teams units.
Emmanuel should at least play on the kickoff and punt return teams. Sam plays on all but punt returns for the Cardinals, so what happens if they cross paths on an Arizona kickoff? The possibility crossed Sam's mind as he studied film Thursday, only to see that his brother on Eagles kick returns typically lines up on the opposite side off the field as he does. Sam expects to match up with Bryan Braman.
"So it would take a longshot for us to go against each other on that team," Sam said. "But if it does [happen], I've got one mission, especially on that kickoff team, and that's getting to the returner. I'll apologize after."
"If I get a chance for a shot, I'll make sure I make my block," Emmanuel said. "I'll put it like that."
Inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks (calf), running back Darren Sproles (knee) and center Jason Kelce (hernia) were officially listed as questionable for tomorrow's game. Each was a limited participant in practice this week and took part in the Eagles' walkthrough yesterday . . . Running back/kick returner Chris Polk (hamstring) is probable, meaning the Eagles are expected, at the very least, to have two running backs active tomorrow.