"And may the football star and the cheerleader," Charles Gibson told his audience on ABC's World News during that trip to New York, "live happily ever after."
What happens after happily ever after? What do the prince and princess talk about in the castle? Does he remember what it was like to swim in the pond as a frog; does she ever wonder if she really woke up from her deep sleep?
Well, Chrissy Johnson could certainly use a little sleep now. It's 4:30 a.m. She dresses quietly so as not to wake her husband, but every creak of the floor sounds to her like a snowblower grinding in the parking lot. Even when she's cutting up an apple for lunch, the noise seems deafening. She looks in: Ian is still sleeping. She groggily rides off with a friend to the Mall of America where she stocks nighties and bras at the Victoria's Secret.
Ian sleeps a little longer, then stumbles out of bed himself. He goes off to lift weights, to sit in on meetings, to get lunch for teammates, to run on the treadmill, to practice football with the Minnesota Vikings. Technically, Ian is on the Vikings' team, and technically, he is not. He has a Vikings uniform and a locker. He gets paid weekly. He certainly takes his share of hits. One teammate, fullback Naufahu Tahi, pays him a little extra money to stay out after practice, pretend he's a linebacker and also to serve as a blocking dummy. The money comes in handy.
But on Sundays, when 46 of his teammates go off to play football, Ian goes to church with Chrissy. They stop for bacon as thick as an iPhone at the Original Pancake House. Then they rush home so Ian can sit on a rented couch and watch the Vikings' game on a rented television. He shouts out the names of the plays as they develop. All the while, he imagines how he would look on the field.
This is the strange half-life of an NFL practice-squad player. They were called taxi squads because Arthur McBride, the old owner of the Cleveland Browns, would keep a handful of emergency players on his payroll as taxi drivers. The taxis are gone, but the idea hasn't changed. Practice squads are how NFL teams stock up to eight emergency players—and so in cities across the league there are men who believe they play in the NFL but aren't quite sure how to describe the job to their parents.
The money sounds pretty good—$5,200 a week for every week, up to 21, you survive—but there's no security. Ian and Chrissy have a month-to-month lease in a two-bedroom apartment that they cannot quite afford year-round in the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie. They live with rented furniture they can return easily. Every plan in their life is conditional, in case the call comes. The call can be good news ("You're moving up to the active roster!") or bad. ("Sorry, kid, we have to release you.") Either way the call can come at any time, and so Ian and Chrissy feel both excited and panicked whenever the phone rings.
"This is our great adventure," Ian says.
"We have a lot of faith," Chrissy says.
"I know I'm going to play in the NFL," Ian says.