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"Sometimes," Chrissy recalls thinking, "I just want to shake Ian and say, 'What are you feeling in there?'"
"I guess it's just that I had dealt with this my whole life," Ian says. Ian's father, Sterling (a longtime firefighter in the Los Angeles Fire Department), had grown up in L.A., and his mother, Colleen (a paraeducator), had grown up in inner-city Chicago. They moved the family to a Los Angeles suburb to create a better life for Ian and his two siblings. Ian went to Damien High, a private, mostly white all-boys' Catholic school in La Verne. He remembers a lot of racial taunting. But for Ian, his focus was never on the taunting; it was on overcoming the harassment by keeping his emotions under control.
"In a weird way I could almost understand the letters," Ian says. "I mean, with the proposal, here we were on people's televisions—we were everywhere. It's like we had come into people's homes, and some people didn't want us in their homes. I got that. But I also wasn't going to let anyone come in and try to ruin things."
There were dozens of meetings at Boise State about the wedding, the topics ranging from NCAA rules (the couple could not accept certain presents, gifts that might have been perceived, say, as coming from school boosters) to security (the location of the wedding was changed after bomb threats were made) to the date of the ceremony. ("They kept asking us to wait," Chrissy says.)
The day Ian remembers most—aside from July 28, 2007, the wedding day itself—was the day when he met with his security detail, mostly off-duty policemen, to discuss escape routes from the reception venue in case things got dangerous. "That," he says, "was when I thought, Man, this is serious."
The wedding went off without anything worse than some harmless wedding crashers, but maybe all the emotions did back up on Ian. He entered his junior year as a Heisman candidate and one of the most famous college football players in America. He bruised his kidney, and he sprained his ankle, and he ran for 627 fewer yards and had eight fewer touchdowns.
"Ian was still working really hard," says Jeff Choate, then the Boise State running backs coach and now its special teams coach. "But I think he would tell you that with the wedding and all the attention and everything, he kind of lost his edge."
People these days generally ask Ian Johnson two questions. One: What was it like that night in Arizona when he proposed to his girl under the lights after scoring the game-winning points? Two: Why in the hell did he pick the Minnesota Vikings?
Johnson was not taken in the 2009 NFL draft. That set him back. He is known among his friends for being so calm, so unbothered, so California cool. But the draft jarred him.
During his senior year at Boise, the offense moved away from Johnson for several reasons. A talented young quarterback—Kellen Moore—was ready to make his mark. Several other skilled running backs had arrived. "I told Ian, 'This is your fault,'" Choate says. "'It's your fault that talented players wanted to come here and be the next Ian Johnson.'"