You can talk around the subject of Qadry Ismail's famous sibling for only so long. You can discuss why Qadry drip-dries his T-shirts, why he presses his jeans so sharply he could shave with them, why all of his friends seem to be girls, but during the first lull it comes blurting out, unbidden and inevitable. "So," you say, "how's your brother?"
The smoke trail left by the older, faster Ismail, Raghib, a.k.a. the Rocket, still lingers. As the 1990 Heisman Trophy runner-up while a wide receiver-kick returner-running back for Notre Dame, the Rocket was perhaps the most exciting college football player of the last decade. That was an impossible act to follow for Qadry, 11 months younger and a shade slower-Raghib runs the 40-yard dash in 4.18 seconds; Qadry in 4.30. "I'm stymied," says Qadry, a senior at Syracuse this season. However, there is a considerable and growing body of evidence to suggest that Qadry is very much his own Ismail, from his slightly larger build to his slightly larger-than-life charm to his own explosive nickname, the Missile.
Before he became the Missile, when he was a high school senior, Ismail was known as GQ, for Gentleman Qadry, the uncomplaining fellow who played fullback and blocked so selflessly for his older brother at Meyers High School in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Raghib was always the star of the gridiron, Qadry the star of the school cafeteria and hallways. Now, Qadry is known as the bigger and perhaps better pro prospect of the two. With a career average of 20.4 yards per catch, he has even been mentioned as a Heisman candidate. In addition he is a talented trackman who owns or shares five Syracuse school records in the hurdles, sprints and relays. He is the first two-sport All-America for the Orangemen since Jim Brown played football and lacrosse in 1956-57. Because of these achievements, lately his relationship to his famous brother has become largely irrelevant.
But the Ismail family is indivisible. Among the brothers, who are, in descending order, Raghib, Qadry and 19-year-old Sulaiman, there is a saying: You've got your social friends, and then you've got your five-fingered friends. Your five-lingered friends are your only true friends, and they can be counted on the fingers on one hand. There are three Ismail brothers. That doesn't leave much room for outsiders.
Take the house that Raghib built in Mountain Top, Pa., after he signed his four-year, $18.2 million contract with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League in 1991. There are no guest rooms. There is a room for Fatma, his mother, who calls herself the Launching Pad, and for Sulaiman, a student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. There is also a room for Qadry, but he has his own plans for when he leaves Syracuse later this year. "I'm going to sign a fat contract and build my own place," he says. "Right next door."
Raghib and Ismail appreciate that their dual success is a remarkable thing to outsiders. "I understand the fascination," Qadry says. Even as small boys playing sandlot ball in Newark, they were regarded with some awe by their peers. The other kids called them the Campbell brothers, after Earl Campbell, the Texas running back who was then viewed in their neighborhood as the superman of football. Which is not to say they're twins. Raghib grew into a small miracle of 5'10" and 190 pounds; Qadry became a pliable 6'0" and 192 pounds. They are as different in personality as they are in build. Qadry is more substantial, less skittish. At Notre Dame, Raghib once jumped into a laundry hamper to avoid the media. By contrast Qadry is a glad-hander. "If he doesn't get along with you, or you don't get along with him, there's something wrong," Raghib says. "You've got to be a total butthead."
Qadry is good company, the sort of guy who can't tell a story without leaping from his chair to act it out. According to his roommate, kicker Pat O'Neill, he has two moods: good cheer and medium cheer. "Down for him is a good mood to everyone else," O'Neill says. "I've never seen him negative. Maybe when he's sleeping." He has the kind of animation that makes kids and dogs follow him instinctively. "Kids, dogs, adults," Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni says. "Your aunts and uncles want his autograph."
Girls, too. They follow him. They call him. But not in the romantic way. They want him as a friend. As a child, Qadry would spend half of his time playing sandlot ball with Raghib and the other half with girls, being sociable. He knows how to play jacks and skip rope double-dutch style. In the cafeteria at Syracuse he will forsake a table full of teammates for a table full of girls, where he will chat away 30 minutes. He insists that it is not flirting, "I'm no Don Juan or gigolo," he says. "It's like he doesn't want any of them to feel left out," says Orange quarterback Marvin Graves. For the last 18 months he has been attached to Holly Oslander, a 6'3", blonde, blue-eyed basketball player.
Ismail's sociability can evaporate quickly, however, when he decides to focus on something. He has a perfectionist streak that makes even his laundry a matter of total concentration. He refuses to put his T-shirts in the dryer. Instead, he carefully drapes them over hangers and pulls them into perfect shape. He would rather have a dozen T-shirts hanging from the stair banister in the off-campus apartment he shares with O'Neill than wear one that has been scrunched up in the dryer. "I'm meticulous," he says.
At one point last spring Ismail treated his grade point average like his laundry. He is a decent student in speech communications, not a great one. But suddenly he decided he was tired of 2.8's and 2.9's, his averages since high school. He became obsessed with earning a 3.0. "Just once, to prove I could do it," he says. The result at the end of the term: 3.133.