When Bill and Matt Dwan stand on opposite sidelines for today's men's lacrosse game between Johns Hopkins and Loyola, it will be the latest chapter in an athletic relationship between the brothers that began with a little arm-twisting 30 years ago.
When Loyola defensive coordinator Matt Dwan was about 5, he followed his older brothers Bill — now the Johns Hopkins defensive coordinator — and Tim everywhere, begging for a chance to play. And if the number of neighborhood kids wasn't enough or was uneven, Matt got his chance.
But inevitably, Matt would get trucked in a game of football or beaned in baseball or stung by a shot in hockey, and the tears would fall. That's when Bill, who is four years older than Matt, and Tim Dwan, who is six years older, would remind their little brother of the promise he made.
"They'd say that I could play with them if I played like everybody else does," Matt Dwan recalled. "That meant that if I took a hit, I couldn't complain about it, and I was half their size. So I guess they were trying to toughen me up."
Bill Dwan agreed, adding, "He caught a couple of beatings, but if he went in and told Mom, then we weren't going to play with him anymore."
Those neighborhood games are a fond memory, but that hasn't stopped Bill and Matt Dwan from stoking their competitive fires. Today's game at Homewood field between No. 4 Johns Hopkins and No. 18 Loyola marks the seventh consecutive year that the Dwan brothers have faced each other in one of the more enduring rivalries in their programs' long histories.
Johns Hopkins has bestowed bragging rights to Bill Dwan — a former Blue Jays player who joined the program as a coach for the 2001 season — as the school has not lost to Loyola since 1999. It's been a rough stretch for the younger Dwan, a former Greyhounds player who was hired as a coach by Loyola in 2004.
"It's tough because we've had some games in recent years where there was overtime and some real tough ones," Matt Dwan, 37, said. "It's certainly not easy. We'd obviously like to get a couple in there. My junior year, we beat Hopkins, and we were the first Loyola team to ever beat Hopkins. So that was an awesome experience. Unfortunately, those opportunities have been a little too few."
That doesn't mean that Bill Dwan relishes these annual meetings.
"I don't like it," he said. "I'm happy for our guys, and I'm happy that if we beat them, we get a win. On the other hand, you know how it feels when you lose. Normally, you don't care, but when it's your brother on the other end, it's not enjoyable."
The Dwans have taken similar paths to this stage. Bill Dwan was the first to pick up a lacrosse stick, becoming a defenseman at Yorktown High School in Yorktown, N.Y. Matt Dwan soon followed, playing attack before switching to long-stick midfielder in his senior year in high school. Bill Dwan became a three-time All-American at Johns Hopkins, and Matt Dwan replicated that feat at Loyola.
Because of their age difference, the Dwans never played together at the high school or collegiate level. But Bill Dwan was a graduate assistant for the Greyhounds in Matt Dwan's freshman year and then a volunteer assistant coach in his senior year.
Bill Dwan said nepotism was never an issue.
"I was never really conflicted because I was probably harsher with him," Bill Dwan said. "Just because he was my brother, he probably didn't get too many compliments from me anyway, and he didn't really need them. He was one of those guys who knew when he made a mistake and when he made a good play."
Charley Toomey, who helped Loyola's goalkeepers in 1992 when the Dwans were part of the program, said the brothers share an innate ability to connect with their charges.
"I remember the rapport that Billy had with our kids one year after graduating from Johns Hopkins and coming over to work with us," said Toomey, the current head coach of the Greyhounds. "We didn't like Hopkins, and they didn't like us. But he brought such a knowledge to the sideline and such a great presence with our guys, and that's what Matt has done. The guys are always up in his office."
The three Dwan brothers shared many similarities, especially in athletics, their father, Bill Dwan, said. They played many of the same sports and rooted for some of the same teams in the New York Yankees and New York Giants.
The only area they differed in was their affiliation with NHL clubs, their father said. Tim Dwan favored the New York Rangers, Bill Dwan supported the New York Islanders, and Matt Dwan rooted for the New Jersey Devils.
The elder Bill Dwan said Tim and Bill were protective of Matt, but there were times when the youngest Dwan didn't want to be coddled.
"Matt tried to live up to his brothers, who were bigger and stronger, and Matt worked doubly hard to try and keep up with them in whatever games they were playing," their father said. "… Matt needed to keep up with them to be allowed to play with them."
The annual clash between Johns Hopkins and Loyola usually puts the Dwan family in an awkward position. Tim Dwan, who said he will be bringing his three sons to the game, said he has crafted a custom t-shirt with the word "Johnsola" on the front and Hopkins blue on one side and Loyola green on the other.
Dwan said the Loyola-Johns Hopkins tussle is especially torturous for their mother, Eileen.
"She's made a couple of trips down with us, and she's a wreck because she knows somebody is going to come out on the short end," Tim Dwan, 43, said. "And we all realize that, but when I go down with my wife or three sons, they're just going to see their uncles and to see lacrosse because they all love it and they all play. But I think for my mom, it's definitely different."
The Dwan brothers haven't talked to each other for an extended period of time this week, but that has more to do with their busy schedules. But Bill Dwan summed up their feelings regarding Saturday's outcome.
"Obviously, you're real excited for your guys and all the stuff you worked on that week, but at the other end, that's the bittersweet part," he said. "I want to win again. On Saturday, I'm sure he'll want to win, and I want to win. You live with it and go onto the next game."