Terry McDonough (second from left) and Ryan McDonough (third from left) talk with Cardinals president Michael Bidwill (left) and GM Steve Keim (right) at 2013 training camp.
Ryan McDonough had been to Arizona before, but always under more relaxing circumstances.
First were the family vacations in the 1980s, when his father, Will, covered the NFL owners meetings as a sportswriter for the Boston Globe. Ryan would splash around in the pool at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel with his sister, Cara, while his dad went to work. The next trip came in 1996, when a teenaged McDonough watched the Cowboys beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.
Sports were the theme of those excursions, and 17 months ago, basketball brought him back.
McDonough woke up early on April 30, 2013, still on an internal East Coast clock, and went for a workout before the most influential interview of his life.
In 10 years he had ascended from a video room worker to the assistant general manager of the Celtics. If McDonough came across well to Suns owner Robert Sarver and team president Lon Babby, he'd have a shot to become the general manager of an NBA organization at the age of 33.
Before he met with the Suns brass, McDonough's phone buzzed.
"My mother sent me a text and said, 'Hey, just so you know, your brother Terry is also in Phoenix today interviewing with the Cardinals,'" McDonough said. "It was literally the same day. What are the chances of that?"
Unbeknownst to Ryan, Terry was following up a job lead with a Cardinals organization headquartered just 15 minutes away. Terry had been let go as Director of Player Personnel of the Jaguars the day before, and Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim brought him in to interview for the eastern regional scouting position.
The brothers stayed the night at adjacent hotels in downtown Phoenix, but were too exhausted to meet up, so instead they chatted on the phone. A week later, they learned there would be plenty of future occasions to socialize.
"That Sunday night I said, 'I'm getting the job in Arizona,'" Terry said. "He said, 'Well, I'm about to be named the GM of the Suns.'"
On May 9, 2013, an introductory press conference was held to publicize Ryan's new gig. Terry was flying in that day to sign his paperwork with the Cardinals, and landed 30 minutes before its start. He raced over to U.S. Airways Center in time for the Suns' announcement.
"I pulled in and there it was," Terry said. "You have a better chance at probably winning the lottery than for all of those things to happen. I don't know if you want to say it was chance or fate."
The McDonoughs have always been a sports-oriented family. Will, who died in 2003, was a well-known beat writer and columnist for the Globe, and became a pioneer when he did NFL in-studio and sideline work for CBS in 1986. Terry, Ryan and their oldest brother Sean – now a sportscaster with ESPN -- tagged along often as Will covered the Patriots, Celtics, Bruins and Red Sox.
"I always say, if your dad's a plumber and you go to the job site to fix toilets, you're probably going to be a plumber," Terry said. "All the boys ended up in sports."
Sean, Terry and their sister Erin were raised by Will in the 1970s. Ryan and Cara were born to Will and his wife Denise – Terry's stepmom – in the 1980s.
While there is a 14-year age gap, Terry beams at the mention of his little brother.
"I was in the ninth grade when he was born," Terry said. "I raised him as a very young boy. Then I went off to college and my professional life, but when he was really young, that was my guy."
Terry studied sports management at UMass-Amherst and, with the help of his father's relationship with coach Bill Walsh, secured an internship with the 49ers in 1989. He followed that up with stints with the Browns, Ravens and Jaguars before joining the Cardinals. When Jason Licht left his post as Vice President of Player Personnel to take over as General Manager of the Buccaneers in January, Terry was promoted to become Keim's right-hand man.
Ryan went to the University of North Carolina, majored in journalism and first had designs of being an announcer like Sean. However, the Celtics offered him an internship out of college, and he rose quickly through the ranks.
Now the brothers are the envy of many as key decision-makers for a pair of professional sports teams.
"It's funny, I don't think Terry and I really look at our jobs any differently now that we're at or near the top of football and basketball operations departments," Ryan said. "The way we were raised is, you show up, do your job – whatever that job is – work as hard as you can, keep your mouth shut, and hopefully good things will follow."
Despite long hours and varying schedules, the McDonoughs have embraced living in the same state again. They'll grab dinner once or twice a month and host each other at games. When Ryan made it out to Cardinals training camp last year, it was an enlightening moment for Terry.
"We walked in and all the media was surrounding him," Terry said. "It kicked in, like, 'He is the GM of the Phoenix Suns. Wow.' It was awesome to watch that."
At their get-togethers, Terry and Ryan will talk family, but it's not long before the conversation steers to sports. While poring over roster composition takes up an incredible amount of their time, the passion hasn't dwindled.
"Although our mother tried to get us involved in other things, we're probably not the most well-rounded individuals," Ryan said.
Ryan and Terry's success in player personnel directly impacts the two franchises which tug at Arizona's heartstrings the most.
The Suns were the Valley's inaugural professional team, and their first arena, the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, was nicknamed 'The Madhouse on McDowell' for its propensity to house fervent crowds. In the mid-1990s the Charles Barkley-led Suns enraptured the state, and the mere mention of John Paxson still causes fans to shudder two decades later.
The Cardinals relocated to Arizona in 1988, and after a slower start, have sold out 87 consecutive football games since moving to University of Phoenix Stadium. They have the most recent championship game appearance among the Big Four sports, and that Super Bowl run following the 2008 season remains vivid in fans' minds.
The McDonoughs were not here for those moments, but know what a championship would mean. Ryan won an NBA title with the Celtics and Terry won a Super Bowl with the Ravens.
"The Cardinals have never won a Super Bowl," Terry said. "The Suns have never won an NBA championship. We both want those two things bad. If that happens, everybody's happy."
So far, they're on the right track.
The Suns were projected to be one of the worst teams in the NBA last season as they transitioned from the 'Seven Seconds or Less' era to a new, young core, but the rebuilding has gone quicker than imagined. The Suns went 48-34 last year, missing the playoffs only because the Western Conference was historically powerful. The Cardinals exceeded expectations in 2013 by finishing 10-6 but suffered a similarly harsh fate by falling short of the postseason.
The Cardinals haven't missed a beat this year, entering this weekend's bye at 3-0, one of the final three undefeated teams in the NFL. The Suns inked standout point guard Eric Bledsoe to a five-year contract on Wednesday and will begin training camp next week.
"I think there's a good collective buzz again around the Cardinals and the Suns," Ryan said. "People are excited, not only for the present but what the future holds."
When Ryan was hired by the Suns, he moved within a stone's throw of the Biltmore. After his mom heard, she dug out the old photos from their vacations, of him and Cara swimming and standing next to a cactus.
"It was a pretty neat (experience) for a kid from New England," Ryan said. "It's pretty ironic about 30 years later to be back as the GM of the Suns, living right across from the hotel."
Terry lives in a different area of town, but can't get over how much he enjoys Phoenix. He grew up in Boston, lived in Atlanta, Raleigh, Jacksonville, San Francisco and even Europe for a spell, and has traveled extensively as a scout.
"When you look at the map of where you could be, it's a heck of a place," Terry said. "I can't speak for him, but for me, this is paradise."
A year and a half ago, the McDonoughs somehow landed in Arizona together. As both well know, the shelf life of front office personnel can be short. Too many bad seasons can lead to a hasty exit and a forced move to a new organization.
Right now, though, both the Suns and Cardinals are on a positive trajectory. And if either McDonough can help deliver a title, local fans would make sure this always felt like home.
"I hope we're both in this city 10 years from now, because that means we both would have won," Terry said. "Then we could look back and say, 'Wow, what a great run we've both had.' That's the dream. And why not?"
Images of the Cardinals cheerleaders in their white outfits this season