On January 20, 2019, Equanimeous St. Brown was sat at home watching the NFL conference championship games.

The 1.96m wide receiver had just completed a successful season with the Green Bay Packers, at least on a personal level: 21 catches for 328 yards in 12 games. Not bad for a rookie, but not enough to prevent the Packers from playing their worst season since 2008 and missing out on the playoffs by some distance.

And so, St. Brown found himself watching the New Orleans Saints against the Los Angeles Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs against the New England Patriots on television along with millions of other fans. He picked up his phone and tweeted: “Won’t be at home this time next year.”

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen either after he suffered an ankle injury and missed the whole season. But he wasn’t far wrong.

This Sunday, St. Brown will take to the field when the Packers face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a place in Super Bowl LV on February 7. Should they make it, St. Brown will become only the fifth German to appear in the showpiece event, marking a high point in an international family story worthy of Hollywood – but which began at a bodybuilding convention in Cologne in 1989.

An international affair

Miriam Steyer was only at the convention to accompany a friend who played badminton. John Brown, on the other hand, had flown in especially from California to present a new protein product for a German company.

Brown knew what he was talking about. The three-time Mr. World and two-time Mr. Universe was pure muscle, and immediately caught Steyer’s attention. Her English wasn’t brilliant, she recalls, so they didn’t have a great deal to talk about, but the attraction was mutual and the two stayed in touch.

California felt a lot further away from Germany than it does today and phone calls weren’t cheap. So the pair exchanged letters, gradually getting to know and love each other over a distance of 9,000 kilometers. “Every six months I’d fly over,” she tells DW.

In 1996, they got married in the Rhineland, before settling in the US. That fall, their first son was born.

Destined to be an athlete

John Brown always wanted his children to be athletes. Footballers, if possible, in the NFL. And he knew that small nuances could make the difference.

Names, for example. But his name was a slave name. Therefore, he added the prefix “St.” for “saint” – and which also happened to be the first two letters of his wife’s maiden name.

And to ensure that his son immediately attracted attention, he named him Equanimeous Tristan Imhotep, the first name meaning “composure,” the third after an ancient Egyptian high priest. His brothers, Osiris Adrian Amon-Ra and Amon-Ra Julian Heru are also named after the Egyptian gods of the underworld, the sun and the sky.

Miriam Steyer says she had no say in the matter and, while she approved of the idea of her sons become professional athletes one day, she “focused on all the other stuff outside sport.” Principally on the boys’ education. For Steyer, it was important that the children grew up speaking several languages, which she believes will stand them in good stead later on, after their sporting careers.

Roots on two continents

She was also keen to show her sons her own country and, every summer, the family would visit relatives in Germany, splitting their time between Leverkusen near Cologne and Friedensdorf in Saxony-Anhalt, where her great aunt Sieglinde Zeising lives.

Equanimeous has both American and German citizenship and says he has fond memories of “lots of animals, lots of land, a few houses, a barn and lots of fruit and vegetables in the back garden” when he thinks of his German “Tante Linde,” who is now 88 years old. Friedensdorf, he says, was completely different to what he knew from California.

Back home on the West Coast, he and his brothers had been lifting weights in the garage since the age of five and sticking to a strict nutritional plan drawn up by their father. “I can teach them everything to become the best in the world,” John Brown told the Los Angeles Times. “Because I know what it takes.”

Equanimeous says it’s advantageous that his father was also a professional athlete. “He showed us how hard the road is, how hard we would have to work.”

From the streets to the Super Bowl?

To do that, John Brown would take his sons to Compton on weekends, the notorious LA suburb where he himself grew up and which in the 1970s had the highest murder rate in the USA.

In Compton, his sons would play sports against local kids, measuring themselves against youngsters who didn’t grow up in sheltered families and who certainly didn’t go to private school, but knew how to succeed in life nevertheless.

That was the attitude that once helped John Brown to progress from the streets to the top of his sport, and it’s helped his son as well.

Equanimeous St. Brown is an established player in the NFL, he scored his first touchdown in December and is now just one game away from the Super Bowl. Hopefully, he won’t be watching on television.