The typical brother behavior began on the ride to Wofford College last month, when Carolina veteran center Ryan Kalil drove his younger sibling to training camp and almost immediately began complaining about the music.
Offensive tackle Matt Kalil, four years younger, was relieved of his car DJ duties roughly 20 minutes into the 80-minute trip when his selections favored “a lot of weird house stuff, something he picked up in Minnesota I’m guessing,” Ryan said. “It was very telling. I’d never heard of this music before, that’s how bad it was.”
Matt responded with, “He’s an old soul. He likes Frank Sinatra and all the oldies. I’m a little bit into that, but not as much as he is.”
Any successful offensive line boasts the cohesiveness of Sinatra’s legendary Rat Pack and a franchise fortunate enough to double its number of Kalils goes a long way into adding plenty of personality. Both brothers possess a similar charisma and wit, as good at talking as they are at playing, and the team is banking on the duo to help better protect quarterback Cam Newton, who took a pounding last year even when he remained in the pocket.
Ryan, 32, has been as rock solid a member of the franchise as any player over the past decade. A second-round pick in 2007, he’s a five-time Pro-Bowler who signed a two-year contract extension just over a year ago worth $16.75 million, with $13 million guaranteed.
Matt, 28, spent his first five seasons with the Vikings before agreeing to a deal this offseason worth a reported $55.5 million over five years, with $25 million guaranteed. That’s a bunch of cash for a guy who began his career with great promise, but has been limited overall by injuries. Drafted fourth overall in 2012, he made his lone Pro Bowl as a rookie before knee problems slowed his progress, and then he missed all but two games last season with an injured hip.
Brought in to replace Michael Oher to protect Newton’s blind side, the team is gambling the younger Kalil has only scratched the surface of his ability, and if he can stay healthy is the answer at that important spot.
Matt Kalil said he’s looking to not only prove his worth to others, but to himself.
“I know when I’m healthy and everything’s working out great in that aspect, I can be a great player," he said. "There’s a lot of things I had to play through that I finally decided to get fixed and it’s been awesome. I feel like I’m finally getting my quickness back and it’s actually fun to go out there on the field and play with no pain.”
Aside from signing a huge contract and assuming one of the team’s most important positions, the chance to play alongside his brother is a big bonus for Kalil, who is just young enough to have missed playing with Ryan through their high school and college careers. Both grew up in Corona, Calif., and attended Southern Cal.
The idea of joining forces at some point over their professional careers was bandied about at various times, but never seriously considered.
“You only get to play this game once in your life, so I thought I’d make the best of it and might as well play with my older brother,” Kalil said. “It’s kind of a situation you talk and joke about, but never actually think would happen. It’s already a rare opportunity to get into the NFL and have success, let alone play with your sibling.”
Carolina defensive end Wes Horton, who played collegiately with Matt, says the family bond is strong and quickly evident when you see the two on the field and around the facilities.
“There’s definitely a brotherly bond they have going on. They’re both very similar personalities, both goofballs and always finding something outside of football to talk and laugh about. They definitely keep things fun throughout training camp because it’s not always all about football with them. They try to bring a funny aspect into things.”
Both brothers have an entrepreneurial side off the field, with Matt investing in pizza chain Pieology in addition to some fledgling “ice-cream and dessert” places, while Ryan has co-written a tongue-in-cheek handbook for NFL rookies while dabbling in movie production.
“As far as the more artsy and artistic stuff that Ryan does, I think we’re a little different in that respect,” Matt said.
When it comes to the business of football, Matt has always looked up to and taken advice from his big brother, and now Ryan has the opportunity to really be hands on as far as the instruction.
“Sometimes he’ll try and bust my chops a little bit and play the older brother card, but for the most part he’s been a great teammate and helped me out tremendously,” Matt said.
Ryan summed up, “Honestly, my relationship with him since he's been here hasn’t been any different than a new teammate coming to town and showing them around. Obviously we’re brothers and will spend time together, but for the most part we’re teammates first and that’s the exciting part.”