Ask a colleague of the Vecseys about Peter, and he's likely to mention the media basketball game during the 1989 NBA Finals in which Peter bloodied the face of a fellow reporter with one punch. Ask about George, and the colleague might mention bumping into him on his way to a Polish film festival. The Vecseys are the id and superego of New York sports journalism, one serving up tabloid fury, the other serving as the voice of proportion and reason. "I think I am the Post," Peter says. "I identify with it, people identify me with it. But my brother? I came to him about 10 years ago and said, 'George, the Post would love to hire you as the columnist. You could probably double what you're making.' No, he said, not interested. He is the Times. I thought we could've tore it up together. His personality would've come out, the real personality.
"He would've been a changed person. But he's an elitist, and maybe that would've been taking too much of a chance. My life has been one risk-taking adventure after another. I've made mistakes, hurt myself, quit things—and he's always been in the comfort zone. Never took a chance that I can remember."
The New York sports community has long grown used to such snide comments between the brothers, but that hasn't eased curiosity over their differences. George and Peter have now gotten the faces they deserve, and they are the same face—beneath very different disguises. Pair George's Old Testament visage with Peter's slick, hair-plugged persona, and it's like the setup of some bad joke: So this Amish farmer is sitting next to Hugh Hefner....
Broadcaster Dick Schaap said that the Vecseys are as much alike as the Thurmonds—Nate and Strom. Former Times sports editor Joe Vecchione, who made George a columnist, bragged vis-à-vis the Post, "We've got Abel, and they've got Cain." For years, Knicks staffers referred to the two brothers simply as Good and Evil. Bob Costas once demanded of Peter, "How could you and George have sprung from the same womb?"
This is, of course, the unanswerable question of many clans. Explain Jimmy and Billy Carter, or the brothers Kaczynski. When Thomas Wolfe wrote, "There is something sad and terrifying about big families," he captured the perplexed expressions that can be seen across America come Thanksgiving, the angry thrill of sharing blood with absolute strangers. Often, children in such families escape by rejecting parents or siblings or just running hard in different directions. Peter and George did the latter. The odd tiling is that when they stopped running, they were in the same city at the same job—and they barely recognized each other.
"I'm vain, he's not," Peter says. "I care about the way I look, the way I dress, the cars I drive. I'm materialistic. He's not. He's much more erudite, much more versatile. He could bore you to death on any number of issues. I can bore you to death on only one."
After George ended a decade-long hiatus in straight news and returned to sportswriting in 1980, Peter helped him, introduced him around, caught him up. But over the years they saw less and less of each other. In May 1997, during a Heat-Knicks playoff game at the Garden, George and Peter provided a rare sight: the two of them eating a pregame meal. "Together?" George says. There they sat for 15 minutes, side by side, chewing. Neither said a word. Despite their shared interests, people wonder what they have to talk about.
"Nothing," says Laura Vecsey, George's 36-year-old daughter, a sports columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "I don't think either has any interest in what the other one does."
They almost never read each other's work, though Peter makes an exception when George hammers New York Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner, whom he has described as "sick" and "a blowhard and a bully." George once wrote, "There is always an invisible calliope playing wherever George Steinbrenner roams. The biggest show on earth. Jojo the Dogface Boy. Barnum's elephant, Jumbo. Hurry, hurry, check out the sideshow!" For Peter, reading that is like stepping back to an adolescence in which his brother wielded sarcasm like a razor.
Chris Vecsey, the youngest of the five Vecsey siblings and a professor of religion at Colgate, says he can recall many affectionate moments between himself and his two brothers, but never between George and Peter. George, asked why he and Peter are not close, goes silent for long seconds before finally saying, "Parliamo idiomi molto differenti, e viviamo in paesi differenti." Then he translates from the Italian, softly: "We speak very different languages, and we live in different places."