PLATTEVILLE, Wis. -- Brothers Jay Hilgenberg of the Chicago Bears and Joel Hilgenberg of the New Orleans Saints found time for a brief family reunion this week during the teams' joint training camp.
The duo of pro football centers had a rare opportunity to get together during preparations for the NFL season when the Bears and Saints shared the University of Wisconsin-Platteville training site Monday through Thursday. The brothers were joined by their parents from Iowa City, Iowa, after Tuesday's workout.
'I had about an hour to sit around and talk to them. It was really nice,' said Joel, 25, a 253-pounder who divides his time between center and offensive guard for the Saints. 'It was really the first time I've been able to see my folks in a training camp so it was good to see familiar faces from home again.'
The family gathering was a bright spot for Jay, 28, in a week he spent out of pads and pacing the sidelines while waiting for his injured shoulder to heal.
The name Hilgenberg has long been known associated with the center position in the football world, with only Wally Hilgenberg -- Jay's and Joel's uncle -- breaking rank to play linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings.
Wally's brother, Jerry, was an All-American center at the University of Iowa in the 1950s and taught his sons Jim, Jay and Joel the craft of hiking pinpoint long snaps in the back yard of their Iowa City home.
'We'd go outside in the back yard a lot and practice snapping and all,' said Joel, a second-team All-America at Iowa who started seven games for the Saints the past two seasons. 'My brother Jay says we never played catch facing each other.
'There is something special about being able to play center. Down in the trenches you don't get too much glamour, you're not scoring those touchdowns or catching the long passes and all, but it's really rewarding.'
Brother Jay has been grabbing about all the notoriety a center can hope for by landing a starting role on the NFC Pro Bowl team the past two years after cracking the Bears roster as a free agent in 1981.
The 6-foot-3, 265-pound veteran is entering his seventh year as a pro with a string of 56 straight starts on a team that allowed an NFC-low 24 sacks last year and that has led the league in rushing the past four years.
Not only is Jay astute in blocking charging noseguards and hitting place-kick holders from 15 yards, he maintains a low-key demeanor on a team rife with characters.
'All quarterbacks feel the same to me,' was the answer Jay offered during the off-season when questioned repeatedly by reporters about which three of the Bears five quarterbacks would make the 1987 roster.
Jay apparently picked up his diplomatic skills from his father. When asked after Tuesday's practice if he has a favorite pro team, Jerry Hilgenberg replied, 'Yes, the Bears and the Saints.'