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When 49ers visit Eagles, at long last, the Celek brothers will play on same field

It's a moment for a family to savor with Brent's long Eagles tenure winding down.

The Celek brothers, Garrett (left) and Brent.
The Celek brothers, Garrett (left) and Brent.Read moreAP and Staff File Photos

Tight ends Brent and Garrett Celek have been in the NFL together since Garrett made the San Francisco roster as an undrafted rookie in 2012, the Celeks playing the same position in the same conference. On Sunday they'll finally do it on the same field when Brent's Eagles host Garrett's 49ers.

Brother vs. brother meetings aren't all that rare in the NFL, and even on the Eagles  —  in Week 2, Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce took a penalty for a celebration aimed at the Eagles' sideline, and presumably, his brother Jason, the Birds' center.

But with Brent Celek, the longest-tenured Eagle, seemingly winding down an 11-year career in Philadelphia, this encounter takes on special meaning. Garrett said about 50 family members will be in attendance at Lincoln Financial Field, most making the trek from the Cincinnati area, where Brent and Garrett grew up among the five children of Steve and Debbie Celek. They operate three hair salons; Garrett said Steve Celek put aside his career as a mechanical engineer "to help my mom with what she was passionate about, which was cutting hair."

Brent acknowledged that "the older you get, you just appreciate things more."

"I don't know if it's his last  year or not, but if it is, you've got to make the most of it," Garrett, 29, said this week. "We were always that age difference where we were never able to play on the same team, or play against each other, or anything."

The Eagles visited San Francisco in 2014, but Garrett was injured and didn't play in the 49ers' 26-21 victory, in which Brent did not catch a pass.

"I was pretty mad about" not getting to face the Eagles then, Garrett said. "But now we get to, so this is kind of  —  I don't know if it's corny to say, but this is kind of like a dream come true, because we've never been on the same field together at the same time."

Garrett said he and Brent, who turns 33 in January, want to "trade jerseys, do it all."

Brent, asked about finally facing his brother, was more circumspect, less demonstrative, as tends to be the case, said Jason Kelce, who knows both Celeks.

"Brent's probably a little more of a Type A. Garrett's more like the jokester," said Kelce, who acknowledged a similar dynamic in his family, although Kelce said: "I think they're a little bit more similar than me and Trav."

"It's awesome to be able to play my brother," Brent said. "It's probably a lot more fun for everyone else in my family, because for me, it's another game I'm preparing for to win."

Asked if the meeting would evoke childhood memories, Brent said it really wouldn't, because of the age difference  —  they grew up watching each other instead of facing off.

Usually, the offense keeps its head buried in charts and tablets when the defense is on the field, but Brent acknowledged that "Yeah, I'll be watching him."

They might actually face each other on special teams. In that regard, Brent said he got a text from his brother Thursday:

"He said he was going to do something to me on one play. I responded."

They are similar in size  —  Garrett 6-foot-5, 252, Brent 6-4, 255  —  but they have had different careers. Garrett has always been a blocking tight end, a bit of an endangered NFL species. In 62 career games, Garrett has 61 catches, for 715 yards and seven touchdowns. The last few years, Brent has settled into a blocking TE role  —  he has just three catches for 19 yards this season  —  but that was hardly how he came in.

Since making the Eagles as a fifth-round pick in 2007, Brent has caught 388 passes for 4,887 yards and 30 touchdowns. In franchise history, only Harold Carmichael (589), Pete Retzlaff (452), and Brian Westbrook (426) have caught more passes than Brent Celek. Among tight ends, he trails only Retzlaff.

Garrett said the brothers might look alike on the field, but "we play different. … He's a little bit more savvy. I might make a mistake, where he doesn't. He has a feel for things. Because he's played tight end through his entire life."

Garrett was more of a basketball player growing up, and when he did play football, he played offensive line. He said he'd never thought seriously about concentrating on football until Brent got a scholarship to the University of Cincinnati.

"That's when I kind of realized, like, hey, I do want to get a scholarship, and that basketball wasn't going to help me in that area. And that I could do it through football," Garrett said.

Garrett said he didn't become a full-time tight end until Mark Dantonio, Brent's coach at Cincinnati, gave him a scholarship to play the position at Michigan State, where Dantonio had moved. Like Brent, he didn't get invited to the NFL scouting combine. But from his brother, he got the guidance he needed to make the 49ers.

"He's the whole reason I'm in the NFL  —  his hard work," Garrett said. "Just the way he carries himself, that's always something I've watched and tried to mimic. … He's honestly one of the hardest-working guys  — he's talented athletically, but on top of that, he's very smart. He's one of the smartest humans that I know. … He's always been somebody that I've looked up to.

"When I first got to the 49ers, he watched all my games. He'd go to his [practice] facility and watch it on the computer and kind of break it down and study me. He'd call me up and say, 'You need to work on this, you need to work on that.' … Just the other day he was watching [49ers vs. Arizona] film. He called me up afterward and told me what he thought I could do better in that game. He's always there for me, always trying to help me out."

"He's my brother," Brent said. "Anything I can do to help him, I'll do. Except for this week. I'll tell him to just do a little worse."

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