TAMPA, FLA. — I thought my older brother was nuts for paying $800 to attend Super Bowl XLIII. Then I discovered what crazy really is when Tyrone Carter told me what his older brother, Tony "Tank" Carter, paid to attend Super Bowl XL.

Yes, Tank had a blast watching Tyrone help the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks 21-10 on Feb. 5, 2006. But it did cost him 4 1/2 years of his freedom.

In late 2005, Tank received a six-month sentence after multiple citations for driving without a license in Florida. Because he chose to attend Super Bowl XL rather than report to prison on time, the judge added an additional 4 1/2 years to his sentence.

"My brother never got his license," said Tyrone, a former Gophers safety. "He didn't have any accidents or anything. He just kept getting caught driving without a license. It's crazy. You can get caught for crack cocaine and only do about three years."

Florida law only takes so many citations for driving without a license before calling it a felony. The maximum sentence is five years.

Tank originally was supposed to report to the Hardee Correctional Institution in Bowling Green, Fla., in December of 2005. He asked for an extra month to be with his family. The judge said OK.

January 2006 came, but Tank still didn't turn himself in.

The Steelers had gone from 7-5 to winning four in a row and beating the Bengals in Cincinnati in a wild-card game. The Steelers were on a roll and Tank, 34, wasn't leaving Tyrone, 32.

"I came from a dysfunctional family," Tyrone said. "My mother had five kids, and we were all separated except for me and my brother. My brother had been in my life from Day 1. Growing up, he was with me. When I went to the University of Minnesota, he was with me. When I got drafted, he went with me to Arizona to train with me. When the Vikings drafted me, he was with me."

It was Tank who refused to be separated from Tyrone when the two were children. They were sent to live with their paternal grandparents and were raised by their grandmother, Mamie, who has since passed away.

Even when Tank went astray, he ordered Tyrone not stay on the right path.

"Nobody in my family graduated from college or high school," Tyrone said. "My brother was there to set me straight and tell me that I could be the first one to do it. If you look at the statistics of where I came from, I should have failed. The statistics say 50-50 I should be dead or in prison."

Tyrone tried to talk Tank into reporting to prison on time. When Tank refused, Tyrone gave him tickets to the Super Bowl.

Tank did turn himself in after the Super Bowl. By that time, the judge was ticked off, big-time. Weighing the tardiness, the extra month that had already been granted and the fact Tank had missed a mandatory drug test, the judge lowered the boom.

"I had told my brother, 'Go do your time, they'll probably let you out in three months and then we can sit back and kick it,'" Tyrone said. "But I can kind of understand his thinking. We always dreamed about playing the Super Bowl. He said, 'What happens if you're in the Super Bowl and I'm in jail?'"

That's when I blurted, "It's a big game, but, T.C., we're talking 4 1/2 freaking years!?"

"You don't understand because you don't have that type of bond that me and my brother have," Tyrone said. "You ever hear that saying, 'I'd die for you?'"

"Yeah," I should have said, "but, um, that kind of stuff is reserved for throwing oneself on a grenade, not going to a Super Bowl."

Tank won't be at today's Super Bowl. Although he's less than 70 miles away, he doesn't have a ticket to anywhere but the community TV room at the prison.

Awhile ago, the Associated Press asked Tank if he had any regrets. He said he'd do it again even though he isn't due to get out until Dec. 2010.

Wow. This is the part where I say to my brother, "Hey, bro, 800 bucks for a ticket isn't so crazy, after all."

Mark Craig • mcraig@startribune.com