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Three brothers, one love

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 8, 2000


TAMPA -- Back then, Chidi Ahanotu was a Blackboard Jungle kid growing up in a PTA family.

His father, Austin, taught African history at State College in Stanislaw in Stockton. He and wife Adele were dedicated PTA parents. Brothers Duru, then 8, and Dike, then 6, were bright and studious.

Then there was Chidi.

Well, now Chidi was not a bad student at all. The 7-year-old listened ... most of the time. He stayed out of trouble ... infrequently.

"I was always getting in fights," he said. "I mean, I don't know why everybody was always picking on me. I had a little baby face, and maybe I still do to some degree. I don't know why. There was always someone to pick on me, and the I'd explode. I'd be in a fight, and I'd be in the principal's office more than I can remember."

Not his most memorable days, to be sure. But if there is one memory that brings a smile to the Bucs defensive end's face, it is this:

He and brothers Duru and Dike, flying across the soccer field together, terrorizing opponents, scoring goals and having the time of their young lives for their team, the Cheetahs.

"Me and my brothers, we all played on the same team, we always looked forward to playing Saturday," Ahanotu said. "It was like a bonding thing, it was something that stuck with us our whole lives.

"I remember it as a deep-rooted experience growing up, playing soccer together. We shared the same room our whole lives and playing soccer together, that bonds people together.

"Us three brothers, we're inseparable now."

All three were close friends, of course. They roomed together; Chidi got the top bunk. They played together. They hung out together. When Duru outgrew his clothes, on they went to Chidi, and then from there to Dike.

The differences were stark, though, between academics and athletics. They can be seen still today. Chidi is now 29 and starting at defensive end for the Bucs. Duru is a mechanical engineer living in Palo Alto. Dike is now a civil engineer living in Atlanta.

Mother Adele said that athletics was important to her sons, because it allowed Chidi to relate better with his brothers, and they to him.

"It was important, especially for Chidi, because being in sports was something he could do," she said. "He could develop his own skills, he could excel, he didn't have to be quote-unquote, in the shadow of his brothers, who were more the book-type students.

"They supported each other."

Chidi said those were days he can never recapture.

"Those were the good ol' days, when sports was fun," he said. "We went to school together, we played soccer together. We were the three big amigoes."

* * *

Q: What were your memories of the NFL back then?

A: "We all liked the (Oakland) Raiders. Wearing those Raider colors, yeah, we identified with all that. We all hated the niners. It was like the sissy team. The Oakland side, we thought we here hard, and San Francisco, we thought it was a bunch of rich, snooty people."

Q: What do you miss most about those days?

A: "You got the chance to do something with your brothers, seeing them develop, seeing them improve. Naturally, I think that kind of stuff you miss."

Q: What wisdom would you impart to your past self?

A: "I'd tell myself to really cherish these moments. Because they might not be there forever. I'd tell myself to just hold on, because when you get older you will be a success."

SUPER BOWL XI

Jan. 9, 1977

Pasadena, Calif.

Raiders 32, Vikings 14

MVP: Fred Biletnikoff, Raiders wide receiver (four receptions for 79 yards; three set up short touchdowns).

IN THE NEWS: Jan. 18: Scientists identify previously unknown bacterium as the cause of "Legionnaires' disease," which killed 29 people at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia. Jan. 21: President Carter pardons Vietnam draft evaders. July 22: Purged Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping is restored to power as the "Gang of Four" is expelled from the Communist Party. Sept. 12: Black South African activist Stephen Biko, 30, dies in police custody from brain injuries sustained during what security police called "a scuffle" while he was being interrogated a week earlier; the death stuns the country.

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