Here’s how you know you grew up in a football family: Your older brother’s first babysitter wasn’t a teenager from down the street, but a future NFL head coach and TV personality who now happens to be the coach at Arizona State.
That piece of family lore was passed around the Dye household whenever Herm Edwards showed up on TV, either as the coach of the Jets or Chiefs or as an NFL commentator for ESPN.
Before he went to the NFL, Edwards coached defensive backs at San Jose State from 1987 to 1989. There he met a player named Mark Dye, who was married and had his first child, Tony, while living in San Jose.
Mark had two other sons, Troy and Travis, who now play at Oregon. Mark rooted for the Ducks without hesitation when they faced his alma mater earlier this season, but their game Saturday against Edwards and the Sun Devils will bring a few mixed emotions.
“I don’t know if conflict is the word, but there would probably be more attachment when we play Arizona State because my DB coach at San Jose State was Herman Edwards,” Mark Dye said.
Those three years at San Jose State were Edwards’ only experience in college coaching before he was hired by Arizona State last spring. The move, widely panned at the time, has become one of the feel-good stories of the Pac-12 season with the Sun Devils bowl eligible at 6-4 and capable of winning the Pac-12 South with victories against Oregon and Arizona.
Standing in their way will be the two Dye brothers, Troy and Travis. Neither had a chance to meet Edwards as kids, and Edwards studied both on film without realizing the family connection before a reporter informed him this week.
“I’ve got to make sure I run those guys down before the game,” he said.
They’ll have a lot to catch up on. In the years after Mark played at San Jose State, Tony became an accomplished youth hockey player who passed up a prep school scholarship to focus on football, eventually signing with UCLA as a safety.
Troy and Travis followed their own path. Neither pursued hockey to the same extent as their older brother, but both inherited the football gene.
Troy, now a three-year starter at linebacker, had established himself as a Pac-12 standout when Travis arrived at Oregon this fall as a freshman running back. They occupy different sides of the physical spectrum — Troy is 6-foot-4 and lanky, Travis is 5-8 and compact — and play different positions, which explains their differing perspectives on the game.
As a linebacker, Troy excels in pursuit. Being the little brother, both in age and stature, meant Travis had two choices: run fast or get caught.
“It was always them chasing me around the house and me trying to get away from them,” Travis said. “The finesse part came into play right there.”
The competition could get heated at times. Games involved the whole family — the boys, their sister, even their mom, Danna — and ran the gamut from football to ping pong. Being the little brother wasn’t always fun, Travis said, but it prepared him to face bigger, stronger adversaries on the football field.
“Big brothers are always bullies,” Travis said. “They bully you around, throw dirt in your face a little bit, but at the end of the day they still love you.”
Troy and Travis have perfected their brotherly banter, swapping insults and trash talk when cameras are rolling. When the cameras stop, Mark said, there’s a tender side the brothers usually keep to themselves.
“What you don’t see is how close they are because of the back and forth,” Mark said. “They are each other’s biggest fan.”
Grudgingly, Troy will admit to being proud of Travis. The youngest Dye cracked Oregon’s running back rotation and has appeared in all 10 games, ranking second on the team with 417 rushing yards.
After CJ Verdell went down to injury, Dye was Oregon’s primary running back in the second half of last week’s loss to Utah and finished with 66 yards on nine carries. Verdell is expected to play Saturday against the Sun Devils, but the Ducks won’t have any reservations about handing the ball to Dye if needed.
“He’s built for it,” Troy said. “I think we’re all built for it in my family.”