‘Little Boyle’ steps up for big brother

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Seriously, what kind of self-respecting football fan gets married in November? Well last week, the answer to that question was, my big brother, Ryan.

Of course, the reason as to why a football fan would get married during football season is simple; the guy has little to no say on his wedding date. Actually my new sister-in-law, Rebecca, is a football fan herself, so we probably shouldn’t blame her either.

Well, whatever the reason, for a few days anyway, best-man duties trumped newspaper duties.

But even as I spent a few days out of the loop on the Seahawks, Sounders and everything else in the local sporting scene, I was also reminded of just how big a role sports plays in the relationship between me and my brother, and in so many relationships between brothers, fathers and sons, best friends and any other male relationship you can think up.

Sports are an excuse to call and say hi after a big game, or to keep in touch with college friends on the other side of the country via fantasy football trash talk. Ryan and I may not remember to call and see how life is going, but there always seems to be a call to say, “Holy crap, did you see that Seahawks finish? Crazy.”

It was no surprise then that even on the most important weekend of my brother’s life, sports were constantly in the periphery, and not just because the Basilica at Notre Dame is just a short walk from one of the most famous football stadiums in the country. On Saturday, as the reception wound down, best-man duties included calling every bar we could think of in South Bend to see if they had the Pac-12 Network so my UW-alum brother and his friends could watch the second half of the Huskies’ win over Utah. And no, bars in South Bend do not get the Pac-12 Network. On Thursday night, a group of six guys in a Mishawaka, Ind. hotel room became, I’m confident in saying, the first six guys to ever watch a Sounders playoff game in Mishawaka, Ind.

So even in a week in which being a sports writer took a back seat, sports were still in the forefront of my life. That included the obligatory best man toast, which I’m proud to say included limited jokes at my brother’s expense, though I am disappointed that I forgot to make fun of his ridiculous fear of squirrels. The following is an extended — and slightly sanitized — version of the toast I gave Saturday night. I thought about sending my speech in ahead of time as a column to run Sunday, but even though I’m not a big believer in jinxes, testing out the jinxing abilities of this column on my brother’s wedding seemed a bit irresponsible.

It was in large part because of sports that, from my first day of high school, I was known by a large portion of the students at Blanchet High School not as John, but as “Little Boyle.” Ryan was a standout football and baseball player — his team’s 13-inning victory in the 1996 state championship game remains one of the most memorable sporting events I’ve ever witnessed — and since so many people knew him, they knew me as some miniature version of him.

This bothered me at the time, so I often went out of my way to differentiate myself from Ryan. He excelled as a tight end in the fall; I played golf. He won a state title as slick-fielding, line-drive hitting first baseman and catcher; I played J.V. soccer. … Hmm, suddenly realizing that strategy didn’t go as well as planned.

Yet even as I tried to become my own person to shed the “Little Boyle” moniker, I still looked up to Ryan more than I’d like to admit. When the club soccer team I played on folded and several friends and I joined Ryan and the older kids on a team coached by my dad, it was one of the highlights of a very modest athletic career. When I was a sophomore in September of 1995, and Ryan let me tag along with the seniors on trips to the Kingdome to witness Mariners history, I’m not sure I had ever had so much fun.

And eventually, I realized I had more in common with my brother than I wanted to let on. Yes, he was taller and more athletic, and I was better looking and possessed a far sharper wit (at least in my mind), but from our love of sports to our penchant for annoying our significant others by reciting Mitch Hedberg jokes to our ability to out-kick our coverage when it comes to said significant others, it has become clear over time that we’re a lot more alike than different.

It took me a long time to shed the “Little Boyle” nickname. In retrospect, as I played witness to Ryan and Becca’s big day, I realized being Little Boyle wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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