Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Zach and Julie Ertz, America’s new sweethearts, could own the most coveted titles in sports

SAINT PAUL, Minn. – They are quickly emerging as America's sweethearts, the cutest couple in sports. What makes them so interesting is how they are wedded to each other and their jobs as professional athletes.

The most accomplished partner in the marriage wore a green and white Philadelphia Eagles sweater, and stood near a podium at Super Bowl Opening Night on Monday.

She held a USA soccer microphone, intent on interviewing her husband, Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, for the organization's website.

Even though Zach, a fifth-year tight end from Stanford, is about to play on one of the world's biggest stages on Sunday, Julie Ertz has already conquered a global one. She is a midfielder on the U.S. women's squad that won the World Cup in 2015.

This might have been his time and his team that was participating in the media event Monday, but it was Julie who drew most of the attention.

"It's crazy. I am here as a wife, I'm here as a fan and I'm here to support him in any way that's possible," Julie said to a gaggle of reporters." I came here just to interview him, and now I have all these things (microphones) in my face right now.

"This is his moment, this is his game.''

Meet the Ertzes, both footballers (okay, one plays soccer) who play not only for the love of the games but each other.

Julie was playing with the U.S. women's soccer team in its first game of the year, an exhibition against Denmark in San Diego on Jan. 21, at roughly the same time the Eagles faced the favored Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game.

It was only after the U.S. team prevailed 5-1 that she learned the Eagles had won and Zach was going to Super Bowl LII. The moment was captured on video and sent lumps into the throats of even the most jaded romantics.

Julie screamed, cried and hugged her teammates. When the video, which went viral, was shown to Zach in the Eagles' victorious locker room afterward, he became emotional.

They are both attractive, dedicated to workouts, wholesome and very devoted to their Christian faith.

"She has definitely helped with my development,'' Zach said. "She is always there for me off the field, through the highs and lows, and that is all you can ask from someone that you love. I hope I do the same for her; we definitely motivate each other, but our marriage wasn't based off athletic success."

Zach met the former Julie Johnston at a Stanford baseball game more than four years ago. She was a star midfielder at Santa Clara. "But neither of us had any idea how good the other one was at their sport," Julie said.

Despite demanding schedules — Julie also plays for the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women's Soccer League — they have managed to stick together. So many celebrity couples, particularly athletes, have a tough time making the relationship work. For every happily married couple — think former U.S. soccer star Mia Hamm and retired baseball All-Star Nomar Garciaparra — there are dozens of breakups, like the broken engagement between golfer Rory McIlroy and tennis player Caroline Wozniacki.

The distance begins with miles, but the emotional gulf grow can grow wider.

Fortunately, they discovered the Connect Church in Cherry Hill, N.J. Zach said he used to be envious of some of his teammates' stability when he would ride the roller coaster of pro sports.

"They never got too high or too low because they were focused on Christ,'' Zach said.

He was baptized before his marriage to Julie last March and credits their faith with the success of their relationship.

"It's important. If you're able to build something on a strong foundation, you're not going to be easily swayed,'' Zach said. "That's something we strive for, because the distance that we have to work through is extremely difficult. It can pull you away. It's extremely tough. It's extremely strenuous on our relationship. So being able to be rooted in 'the word' and hold each other accountable, it's got to be much bigger than the two of us.''

Zach is an enormous part of the Eagles offense and quickly emerging into one of the NFL's best tight ends. It took him only 71 games to total 300 receptions. Only five other tight ends in NFL history did it faster. This season, he has 74 catches for 824 yards and eight touchdowns and will be a matchup problem for the Patriots on Sunday.

Naturally, Julie was asked which is harder, winning the World Cup or winning the Super Bowl.

"Two different sports,'' Julie said. "That's the biggest stage on each side. They are both big. It's as far as you can go in your sport, and that's massive, that's huge, that's an amazing accomplishment."

Of course, true love has no boundaries. But as the other wives of his Eagles teammates were falling into their husband's arms after they won the NFC championship, Zach only wanted to share the moment with Julie.

"She wanted to come here and just be my wife,'' Zach said. "Hopefully, on Sunday it will be even better if we're celebrating after the game.''