"We still get letters from people who say that we inspired them," Chrissy says.
Happily ever after. Boise State did not recruit Ian Johnson, at least not at first. The coaches noticed him while they scouted someone else, Patrick Chung, a wide receiver and free safety from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. Chung went to Oregon, where, as a defensive back, he started more games than any other player in the school's history. But before he left for Eugene, he told Boise State that, yeah, Ian Johnson was worth their time.
Johnson was only a sophomore during that magical 2006 season, as unknown around the country as Boise State football. He was a campus character. He made a few extra dollars selling beanies and scarves that he crocheted himself; he also worked as a plumber's assistant for a time. Then, in his second game that year, he ran for 240 yards and scored five touchdowns against Oregon State. He wound up leading the nation in touchdowns. Boise State went 13--0, won the WAC and hit No. 9 in the BCS standings, earning the berth in the Fiesta Bowl.
Everything about that time for Ian and Chrissy was dramatic, curiously so, as if their lives were directed by James Cameron. The two had met on Waikiki Beach a year earlier. Boise State had beaten Hawaii on an October night in 2005, and the beach was crawling with happy people from Idaho. Chrissy heard Ian singing a Keith Urban song, the one in which the guy tells the girl to take the cat and leave the sweater. Chrissy loved that song. He did not know she was a cheerleader, and she did not know that he was about to become a football star. They walked with the crowd. They talked about things that seemed important then, but things they could not even remember a few years later. After a while, without their noticing, the crowd evaporated and they were alone, and the moon hung low over the water, and they found themselves swimming, right out of the movie From Here to Eternity.
They were boyfriend and girlfriend all though the 2006 season. Late that year—this is where the prince-almost-died part of our fairy tale comes in—Johnson ran for 149 yards and two touchdowns at San Jose State. Only he had felt a pain in his chest during the first quarter. He was certain that he had broken a rib. After the game, though, when a team doctor touched the tender spot, Johnson felt all the breath rush out of him and he collapsed. He was rushed to the hospital where doctors at first could not find anything wrong. Johnson remembers walking out of the hospital when one doctor called him back. Johnson needed emergency surgery—he had a collapsed lung.
"If I had gone on the plane back home...," Ian says.
"... he could have died," Chrissy says, finishing his sentence.
Everything worked out, of course. That was the fairy tale year, after all. Two weeks later Ian scored three touchdowns against Nevada. And a month after that, he proposed to Chrissy in front of America.
The threats started coming just hours after happily ever after. First they came to members of Chrissy's family. Ugly voices. Hideous letters. ("I can't believe that you'd support this kind of wedding.") No one wanted to tell Ian and Chrissy about them—nobody wanted to intrude on their dream. But the letters and phone calls kept coming. The message was always the same: Ian was black, Chrissy was white.
After about a month, fearing that the lives of their daughter and Ian might be in danger, Chrissy's family finally told the couple about the threats. Chrissy was angry and scared in equal parts, but Ian, who is half black and half white, didn't seem angry or scared ... or anything else, really.