Long before Mike Grier was a trailblazing star in the National Hockey League, he was a nervous senior in high school without a ton of collegiate options.
His brother, Chris, is older by a half-decade. But the two were close growing up in their sports-crazy home some 30 miles outside of Boston.
And so when Mike Grier was at a life crossroads nearly a quarter-century ago, Chris couldn’t help but sense it. Big Brother, who was out of the house, decided to give Mike a long-distance pep talk right before the year’s biggest tournament.
“He wrote me a real nice letter, just telling me that he’s proud of me, that I’m a good player, that everything was going to work out and to keep working hard,” Mike Grier told the Miami Herald on Thursday. “I kept that with me.”
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Big Brother was right. Mike starred in the tournament, impressed Boston University enough to earn a partial scholarship, and 15 NHL seasons later is easily the most famous member of his impressive family.
Chris is the most anonymous. And he is just fine with it.
But that all changes Thursday night, when Bobby Grier’s oldest son makes his first draft pick as an NFL general manager. Chris Grier will have control of the Miami Dolphins’ draft room when they go on the clock with the 13th overall pick (or earlier, if they trade up).
“I’m not nervous,” Grier said of this weekend’s draft. “I’ve been doing it, been in this business for so long, and I think we’re prepared going through our process. I’m excited.”
He should be. Thursday night is the realization of a lifelong dream. As a teenager, Chris spent his free time breaking down college tape on VHS in the hopes of someday following in the family business.
Dad Bobby is a legendary football scout whose long career will end with this weekend’s draft. Bobby Grier spent more than three decades in the NFL, first with the Patriots and then the Texans. He will retire next week.
Houston might be home now, but his sons grew up in New England. The Grier family moved to Holliston, a picturesque, colonial speck of a town, when Chris was just 7. Roughly 10,000 people lived there during his childhood, but Holliston’s gene pool was special. Holliston might have the nation’s highest per capita of famous (and near-famous) people produced.
Along with Grier and his brother, actor Michael Mantenuto (star of the movie Miracle), country music star Jo Dee Messina and longtime major leaguer Mark Sweeney all grew up there at roughly the same time.
Football was fun in Massachusetts, but hockey was king. So Bobby got his boys skates and pushed them on the ice. Chris was a goalie, but knew relatively early on that football was his passion.
Mike, meanwhile, couldn’t play football. He was simply too big.
“Massachusetts had a weight limit, 115 [pounds],” Chris Grier said. “He was bigger so he could never play. He was a really good baseball player. And then hockey, he was in [Sports Illustrated’s] Faces in the Crowd when he was 9 years old.”
Mike was a terror on the ice, earning national acclaim after scoring 200 goals in two seasons as a Mite.
The Grier brothers might have had sibling rivalry, but the pecking order was never in dispute — even when Mike outgrew Chris.
“As I got older, I was a little bit bigger, but I was still scared of him,” said Mike Grier, a 6-foot, 224-pound forward who scored 162 goals in 1,060 career games. “I didn’t realize I could probably take him. He had the big brother edge on me.”
“You know how it is, he always wanted to hang out,” he said. “My friends and I would play tackle football. We’d rough him up and stuff. We tell him, ‘We made you tough and what you are right now.’ ”
Now, it’s Chris looking up to Mike, at least in terms of titles. The younger Mike owns a Stanley Cup ring earned as a scout for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015.
The older Grier, meanwhile, has been to the playoffs just three times since joining the Dolphins as an area scout in 2000. In the time since, he’s survived eight coaching changes and five general managers plus Bill Parcells.
After yet another housecleaning this winter, Stephen Ross and Mike Tannenbaum decided the best hire they could make was already in the building. The Dolphins promoted Grier to GM, making him the highest-ranking black executive in franchise history — two decades after his brother became the first black American-born and trained player to play in the NHL.
At team headquarters, Chris Grier works in concert with Adam Gase to make up one of the youngest coach-personnel chief tandems in all of pro sports.
“I know there are a lot of people looking at what we’re doing right now, and he’s making sure that we’re prepared and making sure that we’re all on the same page,” Gase said. “The communication with him has been off the charts and it’s easy in my position to be around a guy like that.”
No one will pay closer attention to Grier’s weekend than father Bobby and brother Mike. After four decades in the background, it’s finally Chris’ time in the spotlight.
“He’s gone about it the right way,” Mike Grier said. “I hope he definitely becomes more famous than I am in the sports world. And if that came true, nothing would make me happier. I think he’ll do a great job.”