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Eiferts Enjoying Elite

Grady Eifert (left) never thought he was in his brother's shadow.
Grady Eifert (left) never thought he was in his brother's shadow.

This NCAA tournament has been some big-time payback for Tyler Eifert, the guy that always scolds his parents when they tell him they get so nervous before he takes the field for the Bengals.

"What the heck are you nervous for? I'm the one playing in front of all these people," he tells them.

Now he knows.

While watching brother Grady and his Purdue Boilermakers fend off the Tennessee Volunteers in Thursday night's overtime of a Sweet 16 game that is the best the tournament can offer, he gets it now.

"Sitting in those shoes, it was nerve-wracking," Tyler Eifert said. "I've been to a bunch of games this year and there's intensity in the regular-season games, but it's amped up now. Especially since it looked like they had the game and everything going the way they wanted it. And then to think they almost lost, it would have been miserable. I'm glad they found a way to win.

"It's probably the game of the tournament so far."

Eifert has been living and dying with Purdue basketball since he can remember. Gene Keady began building the Boilermakers into a Big Ten contender with guys like Greg Eifert, the kid Keady pushed to be physical and play 'sneaky mean,' is how Greg told a newspaper not long ago. Greg started 56 of his 115 games from 1981-84 and played in two NCAA tournaments himself. He brought his kids back to watch Keady's last teams and Tyler remembers after watching his favorite player Brian Cardinal, he'd sleep on the two-hour ride back to Fort Wayne before being in school the next morning.

But nothing like this. Nothing like watching his kid brother a game away from the Final Four.

"His whole story," Tyler said. "Going from a walk-on, to a scholarship player, to a starter. And the team is supposed to finish around the bottom of the Big Ten this year and they find a way to get into the Elite Eight. March Madness. Anything can happen. You never know. Just keep finding a way to get to the next round and give yourself a shot."

Except Eifert can't sit through Saturday's game when Purdue plays Virginia for the right to go to the Final Four. He's headed to Europe for Bengals running back Giovani Bernard's wedding and is getting an early start so he can visit with his Air Force cousin, an F-15 pilot. But …

"It's a win-win," Eifert said. "If they win and go to the Final Four, I'll be in Minneapolis on Saturday. If they don't win and don't go to the Final Four, I'll be happy I wasn't there."

"Grady," has turned into a term of endearment for Indiana high school coaches.
"Grady," has turned into a term of endearment for Indiana high school coaches.

And if he's there, you know the cameras are going to find him. On Thursday night he got more air time than the NCAA. They caught him enjoying a beverage long enough to set a twitter bon fire. 

"I'm glad I did my hair," said Eifert, who booted the mullet this offseason. "They got me drinking a Miller Lite. I hope I can get a deal with them."

Eifert doesn't want to take anything away from what Grady's doing. But he also knows their relationship is so good that he can't.

"He was able to watch me grow up … He saw I worked to get me where I was," Tyler said. "People ask him if it was hard growing up in my shadow and he says, 'What are you talking about? He's in the NFL. Who wouldn't want their brother to be in the NFL? He takes care of me. It's awesome.' The announcers like to talk about me. I don't want to take away from anything he's doing. He deserves all the credit. He's worked for it."

The term, 'Grady,' in Indiana now means, simply, play unselfishly. After watching Grady Eifert dive on the floor and box out and set picks and wipe off the grimy fundamentals, high school coaches around the state are looking for guys to Grady.

"They've turned his name into a verb," Tyler says admiringly. "That's funny. I'm extremely proud of him. I enjoy talking about him or if the NCAA comes up, I can't let them know soon enough who he is."

If anybody can tell you how to Grady, it's Tyler:

"He has a good understanding of the game and what his role is and what's expected of him. He doesn't take bad shots. He knocks down the open ones. He's does a really good job of seeing the whole picture on defense. Where his help is and where he can help, he's just constantly running around. He always finds a body to body up when the shot goes up. He does everything that you want. He just knows his role."

Tyler (85) could see Grady using basketball skills like this in football.
Tyler (85) could see Grady using basketball skills like this in football.

He does it so well that Tyler Eifert, the Bengals tight end, thinks another Eifert might be able to play tight end in the NFL. There has been some buzz that maybe the 6-6, 220-pound Grady could follow in his brother's footsteps. College basketball players becoming NFL tight ends isn't exactly novel. Start with Hall-of-Famers Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez and go from there.

Tyler would love to see Grady give it a try and he'd be right there helping him on the field and in the weight room to see if it could be done. But he also knows Grady wants to get into coaching and after a run like this there could be something too good to turn down.

Until then, Tyler thinks Purdue has a shot at getting to Minnesota next week: "Virginia is a good defensive team, but they don't give them the matchup problems athletically that Tennessee did."

He'll also remind Grady of the advice he gives him.

"I try to remind him you can't worry about mistakes," Eifert said. "From my experience if you drop a pass, in your own mind you think everyone is thinking about you the rest of the game when in reality I think back to when I would drop a pass and I'd say, 'That sucks,' and forget about it two seconds later. Just don't dwell on the mistakes."

Now Tyler is a just a few Gradies away from appearing on the big screen in Minneapolis.

The Bengals signed Tyler Eifert to a one-year deal for the 2019 season. A look back at some of the best images of Eifert with the Bengals.