Ultimate Teammates: Siblings set aside AFC rivalry when it matters most

Photo courtesy of Tina Clement

The letter Tina Clement sent her brother, Robert Knox, was a short one. In it, she outlined all the reasons why Robert should not refuse her kidney a second time after his previous transplant began rejecting.

He agreed, knowing his younger sister’s persistence.

“She was very willing and if you know my sister, she’s kind of pushy, but in a good way. She wouldn’t take no for an answer this time,” Robert said.

The middle children in a family of four, Tina, a Patriots fan living in New York, and Robert, a Steelers fan living in Maine, did everything together. Born 16 months apart, the two have always looked out for each other while growing up in their small town of Arundel, Maine.

When Tina’s youngest son fell in love with the Patriots when he was eight, her love for the team grew as she bonded with her son while watching the team play. For Robert, watching Mean Joe Green, Terry Bradshaw and the success the Steelers had in the 1970s pulled him in and he never looked back.

­­­“We just kind of clicked,” Tina said. “You know, it was like ‘OK, basketball practice… and we’ll walk home together.’ And it was the way we did [things].”

Now decades out of school, the two continue to take care of each other even though they live hundreds of miles apart. When Robert, who has a prosthetic leg decorated to reflect his love for the Steelers, needed a kidney transplant for the first time, Tina immediately wanted to help. She asked him whether she should start the process of seeing if they were a match.

With three small children at home, Robert insisted she focus on raising them.

“She had young children then and I didn’t want to put any of my family members, especially ones with young children, through that process,” Robert said.

Photo courtesy of Tina Clement

Twelve years later with her children all grown up, she mailed that letter leaving him no choice. What she was doing was as much for her as it was for Robert; she wanted her brother around as long as possible. She told him she would call the doctor the next morning to begin the tests that would determine if they were a match. “I have this extra part that I don’t need and I can live without. I don’t understand what the big deal is,” Tina said.

The rest of their family also appreciated Tina’s gift to her brother. The night before the surgery, their family gathered at a restaurant for dinner. Showering her with love, gratitude and gifts, Tina felt overwhelmed by it all.

As a nurse it is second nature to help people and she was unsure of what to do with all the attention.

“That’s a little hard, and I love that I can do this for him because I just love him,” she said. “You know, every good memory that I have growing up is partly with him.”

Yet, the gift of her kidney to her diehard Steelers fan brother came with five conditions: Be mindful of how he used the bathroom; Hate broccoli; Give her his Yankee swap holiday gifts if she wanted them … for eternity; Remember that she did something for someone she loves and will never regret it.

And the final condition?

“The last one is that he has to cheer for the Patriots every single year, at least one game,” Tina said. “And he’s like, ‘I think I can’t do it.’”

After agreeing to those conditions, Robert, a diehard Steelers fan with a prosthetic leg decked out in Steelers’ colors, found a loophole.

“Oh, it was easy this year because they’re playing Baltimore, Cincinnati and Cleveland, so I can probably root three times this year and don’t have to for the next three years,” Robert said.

After she woke up from the surgery, her brother, with his Steelers leg, walked into her room to check in on her. Prior to the surgery, doctors warned that the donor often feels more pain than the recipient. Feeling sore, she had trouble rolling over and couldn’t believe her brother was up and walking.

“I’m like ‘Are you kidding me? Are you flipping kidding me? Are you up walking and I can barely rollover?” Tina said. “And he goes ‘Hey, it’s in the legs.’”

Now back home, the two are closer than ever and call in to check on each other every night. And with the Patriots taking on the Steelers in October, Robert will definitely not adhere to one of Tina’s conditions.

“Obviously [I’ll] root for the Steelers,” Robert said.

Though neither of them have anything special planned, Tina promises that they’ll text each other with lots of trash talk sprinkled in.

“I just can’t help myself,” she said. “So as long as the Patriots always beat the Steelers, my life is good because I couldn’t handle it if they didn’t.”

The NFL is full of friends and family who compete against each other on the field, but once the game is over, they are there for each other. Just like them, Tina and Robert cheer on rival teams, but are there for each other in life’s most important times.

“You just have to be there for each other no matter what,” Tina said, “no matter what the cause.”

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