Growing up in La Verne, Darryl and Thomas Henley regularly lunged for each other's throat in an expression of brotherly love known as Smear Ball, a game that required a dozen or so neighborhood kids, a football and apparently little regard for human dignity.
Smear Ball is short for Smear the Guy With the Ball, a title that pretty much covers the game's rules and intricacies.
Darryl explained: "You'd get as many people as you want, get a football, and throw it up, and whoever gets it would . . . well, kill the guy with the ball was a little strong . . . we called it smear."
Thomas remembers that the game was not without its time limits.
"My father had a van and he didn't want anybody playing on the front lawn," he said. "We'd play until we heard the sound of his van coming around the corner. Then you'd see 10, 15 guys scatter."
It didn't take much to set the Henley brothers off--dominoes, basketball, horseshoes, Smear. And Thomas didn't mind at all when Darryl was \o7 the Guy With the Ball! \f7
"We fought all the time," Darryl said. "We still fight--about anything, stupid stuff, regular kid stuff. But with us, it was always longer and a little more intense."
Little did they know they'd still be rolling around in the dirt after all these years, now as competitors in the same mini-camp for the same National Football League team, no less.
But that's the way fate would have it. Darryl is the more famous Henley, a former UCLA star defensive back and second-round draft choice of the Rams last month.
Thomas, a year older, is a free-agent wide receiver from Stanford who nearly made the Rams' 45-man roster last season before being placed on injured reserve and later released. Thomas was good enough that the Rams asked him back this season.
So who could have ever imagined they'd meet again like this?
"It's definitely a once-in-a-lifetime deal," Thomas said. "It's very unique, though I think they've had brothers who played here before, Merlin and somebody (Phil) Olsen?"
But once again, the Henleys are at each other's throats, so to speak. Thomas is a receiver whose chances of making the team are enhanced every time he beats his brother on a post pattern.
Darryl, the second-round cornerback, must be able to consistently cover his brother--a free agent, for Pete's sake--to prove he was worth a top draft choice. Also, Thomas' chances of sticking with the team were hurt when the Rams drafted Darryl, who figures to be the team's punt returner in 1989. Thomas returns punts, too.
It could be heady stuff for some sibling rivals, but the Henleys seem to handle it well.
"In order for this thing to work, he has to look at me as a defensive back and he's going to read off me like that," Darryl said. "And I'm going to read off him as a wideout, not as Thomas Henley."
Thomas says the competition is good and clean, and relatively even.
"We can go on the field and I can beat him deep," he said. "Then we can come back and he'll not let me get off the line. And we can talk about it. It's not a big deal."
Through all the years of youth leagues and high school, Thomas and Darryl played on the same team only once before, at Damien High. Thomas was a senior and Darryl a junior on a team that reached the 3-A football championship game.
Though Darryl is a cinch to make the team and Thomas a long shot, Thomas insists there's more pressure on Darryl.
"I don't feel pressure, because I've been through this before," Thomas said. "I know what to do, so I don't feel pressure. I think there's more pressure on him because he's a top-round draft choice and they expect him to perform."
The Henleys say being in the same locker room is no problem, either. They hang out together anyway.
"He's my brother, but when we come in the locker room, what can we talk about that I can't talk to the next guy about?" Darryl asked. "If it's something like family business, we'll wait and talk about it. I'm the same with him as I am to anybody else. But I do feel like I have to perform. If you're drafted high, you have to meet everyone's expectations. It's been a little difficult in the beginning. I'm just starting to feel more comfortable in learning the offense."
The Henleys agree that whatever happens this summer, there will be no hard feelings. Think of it as just another game of Smear--with a few more rules.