Commentary

Brothers' bond stays true despite trying circumstances

Updated: April 14, 2008, 1:42 AM ET
By Ben Houser | Special to ESPN.com

The photo greets Lawrence Tynes at work each day.

It sits on a shelf in locker No. 9, tucked between the showers and the trainer's room in the bowels of Giants Stadium. Five faces smile earnestly, a handsome, perfectly nuclear family -- brothers Mark and Jason, mother Maggie and father Larry surround Tynes, who's wearing a graduation cap and gown and clutching his diploma.

"For that moment in time, they all came up for the weekend," Tynes says. "I graduated college and had already signed with the Chiefs, so I was going to leave from there and go to training camp. It was a good time.

"That is the way I want to remember it."

The 2000 photo following his graduation from Troy State University also has a place on the bar of his suburban Kansas City townhouse. His memory of family is deeply comforting, even if it's no longer his reality. Once his anchor, the family has disintegrated. His parents divorced after 28 years, his mother's health deteriorated, and his brother, Mark, sits in a federal prison cell in Arkansas, sentenced to 27 years for dealing drugs.

Kicking at the NFL level requires a clear head. Focus is essential. All of these family issues already were swirling in Tynes' mind when he was traded to the New York Giants last May. And then, while he was competing for the place-kicking job during training camp, his wife, Amanda, went into labor two months early. The last three weeks of her pregnancy, he spent every minute with her in the hospital and didn't kick a single ball. Somehow, twins Jaden and Caleb were born healthy and, somehow, Tynes entered the 2007 season as the Giants' kicker.

Considering the distractions, Tynes' poise during the regular season was remarkable. He made 23 of 27 field-goal attempts -- 85.2 percent, the best of his career.

In the NFC Championship on Jan. 20, 2008, in frigid Green Bay, Wis., Tynes shanked two fourth-quarter field-goal attempts. In overtime, with coach Tom Coughlin deciding what to do on fourth down, Tynes just ran onto the field. He made a 47-yard field goal -- the biggest kick of his life -- that sent the Giants to Super Bowl XLII.

"I never let the two misses affect me," Tynes said. "I think that is what propelled me to make that kick. I never once got down on myself."

The first points of the Super Bowl came from a Tynes 32-yard field goal, and the Giants went on to beat the Patriots 17-14. Mark Tynes watched the game on TV, behind the walls of the Forrest City Federal Correctional Institution in eastern Arkansas.

"Seeing all the hard work that he has done in his career, and all the perseverance, to me, I am basically living through his eyes, like you would with your child," Mark told ESPN last month in an hour-long phone interview from prison. "Me being on the other end of things, the bad side, and him being on the good side, for me it was a great feeling, probably one of the best feelings I have had in a long time."

[+] EnlargeLawrence Tynes at Super Bowl
Courtesy of the Tynes FamilyKicker Lawrence Tynes and family members celebrate the Giants' win against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Not in the picture -- brother Mark.

Lawrence was rewarded handsomely for that perseverance: a Super Bowl ring, an appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman," a trip to Disney World and, most recently, a five-year, $7 million contract.

He is grateful, of course. But the fame and fortune can't fix the family. It can't restore the once-powerful bond with brother Mark, with whom he played soccer and football and did virtually everything together. It can't make whole the shattered spirit of camaraderie -- the football games, fishing trips and sleepovers -- once shared by Mark and Lawrence and a tight group of friends growing up in Milton, Fla.

"It tears you apart at the seams," Lawrence Tynes said. "I had a great family. I had great friends. I no longer have the relationships that I used to have with those guys. I still have a mom and I still have a dad, and I still have two brothers.

"But, realistically, I have one brother."

Different directions

At age 10, Lawrence moved with his family from Scotland to the Florida panhandle. All three brothers grew up across the water playing soccer. Lawrence, the youngest, was a gifted player. He and Mark, who is 14 months older, were teammates. As their father recalled, Mark and Lawrence each scored six goals in a game, at the time a Florida 5A state record. Lawrence says it was seven.

[+] EnlargeLawrence Tynes
Courtesy Tynes familyThe Tynes brothers, Lawrence, Mark and Jason, spent their early years in Scotland.

As they grew up they developed a close group of friends who called themselves "The BHOYZ," a nickname birthed in their unique language of pop culture and old Scottish-English. "The BHOYZ" included Garrett Bagley, David Dejesus, Daniel Duke, Adam Joiner, Lee Massey, Mark and Lawrence Tynes and a few others.

Massey says Mark and Lawrence were very different.

"Lawrence had the work ethic," Massey said. "Mark had the brains to try to find the way around the work ethic. Lawrence knew what it took to get here. Mark saw what it took to get there and negotiated the way around it."

Said Lawrence, "Of the three brothers, he was the smartest."

The friends matured into a brotherhood on the football field at Milton High School. They called Mark "Prime Tynes" because he wore Deion Sanders' number and had smooth moves as a defensive back. Lawrence had a strong leg and was recruited to become the school's place-kicker. But coach Mike McMillion said that wasn't what made him different.

"It was his mind-set that set him apart from the rest," McMillion said.

In a kicking camp at Auburn University, Lawrence, then 17, booted a 55-yard field goal and left a 60-yarder just short. Despite his strong leg, Lawrence received no college scholarships, so he eventually walked on at Troy State.

In college, Lawrence began to realize that Mark, who had dreamed of playing professional soccer but never received his high school degree, wasn't following a traditional path to success.

[+] EnlargeLawerence Tynes
Courtesy Tynes familyMark, left, and Lawrence were high school soccer teammates.

"I would come home, and you knew," Lawrence said. "I mean, I am not dumb."

Mark, who had a home and drove, at different times, a white BMW, a silver Mercedes and a blue Yukon, was dealing drugs.

Lawrence drove a $600 car; Mark said the money provided him and his friends the freedom to party.

"We did whatever we wanted," Mark said. "We could go anywhere around the country, we could practically buy anything we needed to buy."

Mark, who already had one felony conviction for drug possession in Texas, again was involved with drugs. At one point, the brothers' father, a major crimes detective in the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's office in Florida, actually called his colleagues in the narcotics division to arrest his own son. The officers responded, but didn't find enough evidence for an arrest.

"That was the only wake-up call I could think of to have something happen to change his ways," Larry Tynes said.

Adam Joiner, a member of "The BHOYZ," called it the wake-up call that "didn't work."

In May of 2001, Mark was arrested in Milton, Fla., for felony possession of marijuana with intent to sell, his second felony. Authorities seized drug paraphernalia and more than $11,000 at his home. Mark was part of a marijuana distribution network that included several of his high school friends.

Lawrence said he confronted his brother several times about his drug use.

"Mark was the middle child that did his own thing and I spoke to him," Lawrence said. "… That was just him. That is what he did. You weren't going to change it.

"I knew that to get to where I wanted to go, I had to stay clear of that."

A ton of product

NFL kickers are at the bottom of the food chain -- at times seen as interchangeable vagabonds. Coming out of college, Lawrence Tynes was no different. He played four seasons at Troy State, converting a school-record 45 of 62 field-goal attempts. In April 2001, Kansas City signed him as a rookie free agent. He was released four months later, signed again after the 2001 season and waived a second time in September 2002. He spent the next 18 months kicking around the Canadian Football League with the Ottawa Renegades and NFL Europe with the Scottish Claymores.

In between, Tynes returned to Florida. On May 3, 2003, his 25th birthday, Tynes was looking forward to celebrating with Mark and their friends. He drove to Mark's house in Milton.

"I drive over there and you see the SUVs, you see the bags being taken out of his house," Tynes said. "You see the DEA, and the ATF and all the federal agencies being represented there that went to his house that day to kick in the door."

[+] EnlargeLawrence Tynes with friends
Photo courtesy of Lee Massey"The BHOYZ" included David Dejesus (far left), Garrett Bagley (front, striped shirt), Mark Tynes (middle, blue shirt), Lawrence Tynes (upper left, tan shirt), Adam Joiner (gray shirt), Daniel Duke (upper right) and Lee Massey (in front of Duke).

Dejesus, Duke, Joiner, Massey and Mark Tynes were arrested in a federal drug raid. Authorities seized 57 pounds of marijuana. According to court records, the federal government said Mark Tynes oversaw a drug operation that moved "well over a ton" of marijuana over a three-year period from Texas to Florida.

Massey said the men agreed to tell authorities the truth because, Massey said, they realized "there was no way out." After they were booked, each man told his story in a separate room, at a separate time, without knowing what his friends were saying.

That is, all but Mark Tynes.

He was facing his third drug felony, and a federal charge of conspiracy to distribute more than 2,200 pounds of marijuana. He said federal agents offered him life in prison with the possibility of a reduced sentence based on the level and value of his cooperation. He said he was willing to admit guilt, but not at the level the government was charging him.

Eight days after the arrest, in a phone conversation, Lawrence Tynes pleaded with his brother to take the deal.

"If you go [away] for life, then that just crushes me," Lawrence Tynes said on a tape obtained by ESPN. "I won't be able to kick the ball straight for nothing. It will be on my mind constantly -- it is now, every day."

Against the advice of his co-defendants, his father, his brothers and his defense attorney, Mark Tynes refused to cooperate. Each of his four childhood friends testified against him.

Lawrence Tynes believes in the proverb that blood is thicker than friendship. He's struggled with his feelings about his former friends.

"If you want to call them snitches, call them snitches," he said. "If you want to call them rats, call them rats. That is just what they chose to do. I don't know why. I have never been in that situation, so I can't say what I would have done."

Lawrence's friends, like Joiner, struggle with the notion that they are forever labeled.

"That's a terrible name to have," Joiner said. "I'll tell you, you can't live that down. If today's lingo is snitch, then that's what we are. We did it. I'm not denying that. I sat right in that stand and did my part. I didn't do it for anybody else but myself and that might be selfish, but everyone else had the opportunity to do the same thing."

Release date: 2026

The four co-defendants received reduced sentences ranging from 21 to 60 months. In January 2004, based largely on the testimony of his friends, Mark Tynes was found guilty on two counts of marijuana distribution. Based partly on his criminal history, he was sentenced to 324 months, or 27 years, in federal prison.

[+] EnlargeMark Tynes
Tynes FamilyMark Tynes, the brother of Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes, is serving a 27-year federal prison sentence at Forrest City Correctional Institution in eastern Arkansas. His release date is in 2026.

"You just think at that time everything you have ever done in your life, in such a short period of time, and wish you could take it all back, and I can't," Mark Tynes said from prison. "It is the regret you feel as you are walking away and you see your family back there and the hurt that they are feeling when they see this happen to you, it is never worth it."

Mark Tynes said he has forgiven his co-defendants for testifying against him. They were his childhood friends, his party friends. He has forgiven, but not forgotten.

"It's a selfish act to me to do something like that. We were all guilty, but to take and throw it off on me personally, they are their own men. They stand on their own two feet, and they made their own decisions. I didn't force them to do anything."

One month after Mark's conviction, Lawrence Tynes signed for a third time with the Kansas City Chiefs. This time, he made the team and over three seasons became one of the league's better kickers. He made 68 of 87 attempts (.782) and averaged 114 points per season.

"I think things in life build character," he said. "There are some bad things that have happened, but I don't look at them negatively at all. I think they have only helped me."

By the time the Giants had reached the Super Bowl, each of the four co-defendants had been released from prison. Mark Tynes is scheduled to be released in 2026.

Lawrence Tynes says his brother deserves to be in prison, but he feels strongly that the sentence is too long. Lawrence says he speaks to Inmate No. 05559-17 three or four times a week. They often talk about Mark's final court appeal to reduce his sentence.

Moving on

Lawrence Tynes still holds on to that graduation day family photo. It was difficult on his wedding day several years ago when a picture was taken -- without Mark. His older brother wasn't with him on the field after the Super Bowl win either, another moment lost in Lawrence Tynes' eyes.

[+] EnlargeLawrence Tynes
Courtesy of the Tynes FamilyThe graduation picture that sits in Lawrence Tynes' locker. From left is Mark, mother Maggie, Lawrence, brother Jason and father Larry.

"These are all things that I have to deal with since he has been incarcerated," Lawrence Tynes said. "I have had some very bad luck. Who hasn't? Mine became very public during the Super Bowl, about my brother and my family, but I wouldn't change it for the world.

"There are some bad things that have happened, but I don't look at them negatively at all. I think they have only helped me."

Does Lawrence ever think back to that tight group of brothers and think, given different circumstances, that could have been him sitting in jail sometime past his 50th birthday?

"Yeah," he said thoughtfully. "I totally do."

In his phone interview from prison, Mark Tynes was asked the difference between himself and Lawrence.

"Four inches and one year of age," he quickly joked.

Several days later, with emotion in his voice, he told his father the answer.

"I made all the wrong decisions," Mark Tynes said, "and Lawrence made all the right ones."

Ben Houser is an ESPN feature producer. Greg Garber, a senior writer for ESPN.com, contributed.

Ben Houser is a Senior Producer for ESPN's E:60.