Even though they play for different teams, Cardinals’ safety Hamza Abdullah still calls his younger brother Husain “the ultimate teammate.”
The two face each other Sunday when Hamza’s team goes to Minnesota to face Husain’s Vikings, but the two played together in high school and at Washington State.
“Being teammates, we got to work out together,” Hamza said. “We are each our own worst critic and sometimes we can’t see what’s wrong in ourselves. It’s good to have someone there who understands and can point out the positives and negatives for us.”
Hamza was Tampa Bay’s seventh-round draft pick in the 2005 NFL draft. Since then, he’s moved around: from the Buccaneers practice squad to the active rosters for Denver and Cleveland. He signed with the Cardinals in December 2009 and re-signed with them for a one-year contract as a free agent in August.
The Vikings picked up Husain as an undrafted free agent in 2008.
“One of the best things in life is seeing the people you’ve mentored and helped grow reach their highest potential,” Hamza said.
Hamza said many players who go undrafted like his brother may have a “chip on their shoulder.”
“That’s something you carry with you throughout your whole career,” Hamza said. “The number one thing I told him was, ‘Be the same guy every day. Be great, but be consistent.’”
Last year was Husain’s first year starting and his first chance to showcase his consistency.
“It was great getting to see him grow into a man, and having offenses look around and say, ‘We’ve got to know where number 39 is,’” Hamza said.
November 2010 was the first and only time the brothers have faced off in a professional game. Husain was a part of the Viking team that helped former quarterback Brett Favre pull off a last-minute 27-24 victory over the Cardinals.
Hamza said the two get to work out together at home in California over the summer and, because of the win, Husain got the bigger room with a private bathroom, and Hamza had to share the bathroom down the hall.
“That’s the perks of being the winner.”
But he says their family doesn’t take sides.
“It’s a great atmosphere,” he said. “Our family is pulling for both of us. They want us both to play well.”
Both brothers are practicing Muslims and fast during the holy month of Ramadan. This year it lasted from Aug. 1-29, right in the middle of training camp. Those who fast don’t eat or drink anything from sunrise to sunset.
“It’s a different mindset,” Hamza said.
Hamza said he does not think about being hungry while he’s fasting, but he and his brother tend to experience cravings.
“We get crazy cravings,” he said. “I will be thinking about a Krispy Kreme doughnut all day, and I will drive 30 minutes that night to get one.”
Hamza said Husain once had a hankering for something that could only be found at the Mall of America, so he drove 40 minutes to downtown Bloomington, Minn., to get it.
Players who fast have to hydrate heavily throughout the night. Hamza drinks water and coconut water. He wakes up around 4 a.m. before the sun comes up and eats a healthy meal with lots of fruits, vegetables and a protein shake.
He suffered some minor injuries during the summer and camp this year and wasn’t comfortable fasting every day. He talked to his brother when he was having trouble meshing his religion and his health.
“He puts everything into perspective,” Hamza said. “He told me it was all about my intent. He said, ‘You’re not doing this for anyone else. You’re doing it for yourself.’
“Everything he says to me and all the things I see him teaching others is a reflection of what I’ve taught him. It’s great to see it all come full circle.”
The last time the Abdullah brothers saw each other was in August when they were both invited to pray and dine with President Barack Obama for Iftar dinner at the White House during Ramadan.
This weekend, they’ll meet again when the “ultimate” teammates become the ultimate opponents.
Hamza is part of a defense that needs to turn things around this week after some devastating losses. While he wants to even the score with Husain, he is still looking to be a good role model.
“Being a veteran in the league means not pointing the finger,” he said. “We have to look in the mirror and realize ‘I have to handle myself and what I can do to help the team.”