|Family ties won't matter as Tevin McDonald's (pictured) Bruins battle T.J. McDonald's Trojans. (US Presswire)|
LOS ANGELES -- Family comes first in the McDonald household. Always has. Always will.
Things figure to be a tad different on Saturday, however. With good reason, mind you.
Tevin McDonald will don a blue and gold uniform for UCLA. His brother, T.J. McDonald, will be fitted in the cardinal and gold of USC. Once the opening kickoff sails threw the air at the L.A. Coliseum signaling the start of the crosstown showdown, the siblings will instantly become bitter rivals, extensions of the programs they represent.
Brotherly love? Go ahead and forget about it.
Caught somewhere in the middle will be their father, Tim McDonald. Choosing a side does not figure to be an easy task for dear old dad, even if he has strong ties to the Trojans after starring at USC in the mid-1980's before a 13-year career in the NFL.
"I'm torn," said the elder McDonald, a six-time All-Pro safety with the Cardinals and 49ers, and a Super Bowl champion with the latter. "It's difficult. I thought about staying home and not going to the game at all. Everyone knows that I'm a Trojan at heart. That's just the way things are. But honestly, I like what they have been doing over at UCLA. If I told you that I knew who I was going to root for, I'd be lying. Let's just say I'll be up in the stands and pulling for No. 7."
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Tevin wears No. 7 for the Bruins. The 6-foot, 195-pound redshirt freshman has started a majority of UCLA's games at free safety this season. T.J. sports No. 7, for the Trojans, of course. The 6-3, 205-pound junior is also a starter at free safety, his second straight season in the role.
Enhancing the familial tension are the stakes in Saturday's regular season finale.
USC (9-2 overall) leads the South Division, but is banned from postseason play, opening the door for second-place UCLA (6-5). The Bruins are in control of their own destiny, and a victory clinches a berth in the Dec. 2 conference championship game against either No. 9 Oregon or No. 4 Stanford.
"If we beat USC in the last game of the year, that will give me something to talk about and hold over my brother's head for a long time to come," said Tevin. "I don't think we will be making any bets on the game. But I can tell you this much, we are competitive." The last thing on the mind of T.J. is letting his younger brother -- the two are separated by a mere 18 months -- have the bragging rights.
"There's no side bets between us," T.J. said. "We'll be brothers before the game and brothers afterward. During the game, I know that we'll both compete hard."
Beyond the rivalry, all signs point to the siblings having bright futures.
There has been talk about T.J. having the skills necessary to play at the next level. His 89 tackles and three interceptions as a sophomore were indications of his upside. There has been little, or no, drop-off this season. He has 59 tackles and a pair of picks thus far as a junior.
Tevin, on the other hand, is just now starting to come into his own. When starter Tony Dye went down with multiple injuries earlier this season, Tevin proved more than capable of filling the void. He opened plenty of eyes by delivering three interceptions in a key conference win over Cal in late October. "He's got instincts galore, and usually when you've got instincts galore, you've got to coach instincts out of them," Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel said of the younger McDonald. "You have to make sure he's there to make the plays the defense needs him to make. He's starting to get his feet wet, and his instincts will kick back in. We are the benefactor of those things taking place. We like the direction that Tevin is heading now."
If that direction leads to the NFL for the brothers, they'll still have a long way to go to scale the on-field heights of the father.
Tim McDonald was a three-year starter at safety for USC, earning consensus All-American honors in 1986 before being selected in the second round of the 1987 Draft by the then-St. Louis Cardinals. During six years with the Cardinals, and seven with the Niners, McDonald earned elite status among NFL safeties. He also earned the admiration of his sons.
"It was great, [my brother and I] both dreamed of being in those shoes one day [playing in the NFL], it was something we were born into," T.J. said. "Looking back, it was something that kept our family together. It gave us something to talk about over the dinner table."
It is worth mentioning the elder McDonald never put pressure on his offspring to play the game he made a living at while both were youngsters growing up in Fresno, Calif.
"When I retired from football, I was pretty beat up, I played the game my entire life," Tim McDonald said. "Honestly, I tried to hide that fact from Tevin and T.J. It was difficult though, they were always around the game. They were in the 49ers locker room with me all the time.
"As with any parent out there, my hope was the boys would eventually choose their own paths in life. You want that for your children. We see how that worked out.
"Tevin gravitated to the game at an early age, there was no question about it. He ate, drank and slept football. With T.J., I knew right away [too]. He has been a playmaker on the field since Day One.
"Bottom line is this: I'm proud of both my kids."
Though the winner of Saturday's game between UCLA and USC is anyone's guess -- Vegas has installed the Trojans as double-digit favorites -- the McDonald family will certainly have a vested interest in the final outcome. In the meantime, the household figures to be divided, albeit in somewhat of a playful manner.
"The boys are awful close, they spend plenty of time together and talk about things, both on and off of the field," Tim McDonald said. "When it comes to football though, especially UCLA and USC stuff, I think the best idea is for them to stay away from each other the week before the game. I told them that too. Otherwise, they are best friends for the other 51 weeks out of the year."