When Mike McCarthy led the Green Bay Packers into Pittsburgh to face off with the Pittsburgh Steelers, it meant a lot more than just football. The Pittsburgh native can recall his old neighborhood with a picturesque description like you were walking down the street with him. This wasn’t a normal road trip for McCarthy. This game would be the first time that McCarthy’s Packers played the Steelers in Pittsburgh since his brother, Joe, passed away of a heart attack in 2015.
“It’s hard going back there, to be honest with you,” Mike McCarthy said during an interview last week. “The cemetery is literally a few houses away from my parents’ house. The basketball court where we used to hang out as kids was right there. It’s been torn down now, but just to walk over there and go to the mausoleum to see Joe, it’s right there.”
It’s a business trip for McCarthy. But with extra time because it’s a night game, McCarthy can go back to his Greenfield neighborhood, where he can retrace the happy steps of his youth — and the painful ones of adulthood.
Last year, Sports Illustrated profiled McCarthy, and when the subject of his brother came up, he was unable to talk about it and said, “I can’t get past it. I’m sorry.”
With the trip to Pittsburgh looming, McCarthy decided, “I want to honor my brother. … I just miss him.”
Perhaps this was extra motivation for his Packer players on Sunday night. The team went into this game big underdogs against the Steelers, who are AFC Super Bowl contenders and one of the toughest teams to beat in their building. The Packers jumped out to an early lead thanks to big play after big play from Brett Hundley, the third-year QB out of UCLA.
Hundley hit on touchdown passes of 39, 54 and 55 yards and had first half numbers rivaling that of starter Aaron Rodgers. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough and the Packers fell to 1-5 without their franchise QB.
While McCarthy at first struggled to speak about his brother, as any brother would, he now raves about his brother as a man and father.
“Joe was the father that coached all the kids,” Mike McCarthy said. “He was so involved in their lives, their everyday lives. Joe was a such a great people person. Everybody loved Joe. It’s hard for all three of [Joe’s kids,] obviously, but you always worry about Victoria, the youngest, because I know the father-daughter relationship they had.”
In many ways, McCarthy tries to emulate his younger brother. Although the demands of an NFL head coach’s schedule can be restrictive, living in the league’s smallest city helps McCarthy make it to as many events as possible.
“I’m so blessed, and Jessica just does such an incredible job of making everything work, because this is such a selfish profession with the time commitment,” McCarthy said. “But being in this town is extremely beneficial. The boys are in high school right up the road, the girls are right in De Pere. They have tennis today at 3:30, so I’m going to get to see them play tennis on a Friday. I don’t know if you get to do that in any other city in the NFL.”
I would never question the effort of an NFL player, but sometimes you can tell when the guys on the field are giving everything they have and then some. The Packers were clearly playing for their coach and almost pulled off a major upset win.