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Inside the Bills: A Cook family first – James and Dalvin excited to compete against each other for first time

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Buffalo Bills running back James Cook evades a tackle during the first quarter last week against the New York Jets.

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The stakes are simple in the Cook family this weekend.

“A grand,” Buffalo Bills rookie running back James Cook said when asked what the wager is Sunday when his Buffalo Bills take on older brother Dalvin’s Minnesota Vikings at Highmark Stadium.

While an extra $1,000 would be nice – it’s the holiday season, after all – it’s safe to say bragging rights between the brothers will be worth far more after they play against each other for the first time.

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“There’s a lot of energy going into this game,” James said. “We’ve been talking to trash to each other, so it’s going to be fun playing against him for the first time. It should be awesome.”

In speaking with reporters in Minnesota, Dalvin confirmed that he and his brother had been going back and forth all week.

“I’ll talk to him after this,” Dalvin said during his news conference. “Just call him and mess with him and see where his head is at.”

At 26, Dalvin is three years older than James, 23. As they grew up in Miami, they played against each other plenty of times in the backyard, but Sunday will be the first time in an official capacity that they’ll be on opposite sidelines.

“It’s just funny how things work out,” Dalvin said. “We made it to the stages of our career that we aimed for when we younger. So we just got to take advantage of it. It’s a fun time for my family. But it’s something that I will remember forever. Just taking it all in and a lot of emotions Sunday.”

Dalvin is in his sixth season with the Vikings, who made him a second-round draft pick out of Florida State in 2017. A three-time Pro Bowler who leads the 7-1 Vikings with 608 rushing yards, Dalvin has developed into one of the NFL’s most complete running backs. In the past three seasons, he has rushed for 3,851 yards and 35 touchdowns.

“I just look at him, and he’s set the example,” James said. “That’s all the motivation I need right there. When I talk to him, he just tells me to stay locked in, stay ready and just be yourself.”

The Cook brothers train together in the offseason in their native South Florida with a group of NFL players that includes Bills running back Devin Singletary.

“They're really close,” Singletary said. “They might not seem like it, if you don't know them, but they're goofy. They're always telling jokes, cracking jokes on each other. They're good people – chill people to be around for sure.”

Singletary said he wasn’t surprised to hear that the brothers have talked smack all week.

“They’re definitely competitive at whatever we’re doing,” he said. “They’re always going at it about something.”

James Cook's role with the Bills has been somewhat slow to develop. He’s rushed 28 times for 147 yards and one touchdown and caught seven passes for 96 yards in the first eight games of his professional career. He’s played 15 and 14 snaps, respectively, in the Bills’ two games following the bye week, although it would not be a surprise to see his role steadily increase as the season goes on. The Bills have started to give James Cook more significant carries, and given that they would probably like to reduce Singletary's workload some, both sides would like that to continue. 

"To me, he just keeps getting better and better each week, just from the way he practices, the way he goes about things, and then also to how he performs on the weekends," Singletary said. "If he keeps it up at that rate, the sky is the limit for him."

There have been rocky moments for James as a rookie. He lost a fumble in the season opener against the Rams and played just a couple snaps against Baltimore in Week 4 after a drop. Dalvin knows those moments are going to happen for a young player.

“Just going through rookie moments. I (try to) be there as much as I can for him,” Dalvin said. “He knows my phone is always on ring for him, he can call me anytime, I'll answer. Any little thing he wants to know, I'm always there for him. I know how that rookie year gets. That rookie wall and stuff like that, just going through the moments, just being there for him and talking him through it, but I think he's having a great time. He's in a great place. I just think he's still got plays to make down the line, he's going to get an opportunity to do that. Just happy for him to be in the NFL with me.”

Having an older brother who has been through the ups and downs that come in an NFL season is an invaluable resource for James.

“That's like a cheat code almost, because Dalvin has been through it,” Singletary said. “He can pass down what he did right, what he learned and pass it on to James. It don't get no better than that, to be honest.”

The absolute best-case scenario for the Bills is that James becomes the player that Dalvin has been for the Vikings. That will take time, though. For now, just being a contributor will be enough.

James said he and his brother will swap jerseys after the game. Up in the stands, their mom, Varondria White, will be in a custom hoodie. White told the Pioneer Press that she had about 20 hoodies made with a picture of Dalvin on one side and James on the other.

“Then on the back, it says ‘Cook Off,’ ” she told the paper. “We’re still calling it the ‘Cook Bowl,’ but that was really catchy and I like that.”

In classic mom fashion, Varondria said: “Regardless of who wins, I just want the boys to have fun and do well.’’

“It’s different. I never had the opportunity to be in this predicament,” Dalvin said of his family’s rooting interests being divided. It’s “one of the best to be in, but I think everybody’s kind of split down the middle, Vikings-Buffalo.”

There have only been two occasions in the Super Bowl era in which brothers each scored a touchdown in the same game: Kevin and Andre Dyson on Sept. 22, 2002 (Cleveland at Tennessee) and Willie and Terry Jackson on Nov. 5, 2000 (San Francisco at New Orleans). James said he hopes to join that list.

“It's nothing new for us,” James said. “We go out there each and every week and play football like we've been doing. Playing in the backyard all our life, it's football. We're going to put our best foot forward, because it's something that we love. I hope he plays well. I know I’m going to play well.”

Sean McDermott gives  an update on Josh Allen's elbow injury on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022.

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News Sports Reporter

I started at The Buffalo News in 2009, and have previously been honored as one of the top 10 beat writers in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors for my coverage of the Bills. I live in Amherst with my wife, Melissa, and son, Elliott.

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