TAMPA — The first kiss was 50 years ago in York, Pa.
"I can tell you about that first kiss," Christine Arians said. Her husband Bruce, the new Bucs head coach, was talking with media Thursday. The soul of the Arians family, a piece of work herself, decades of heavy lifting, chatted up a reporter. Oh, yes, that first kiss.
"That would have been sophomore year, after a football game," Christine said. "My friend Joan's house had an alley behind it. I stood on a cinder block, because I'm a lot shorter than him. But that first kiss was memorable. We've been married 47 years. We still remember that first kiss."
Bruce and Chris, Chris and Bruce. That's how it has always been, since sophomore year, through 47 years of marriage, through the coaching life, 18 stops along the way, all those moves, all that love. The coaching wizard and the real brains of the outfit, the mad scientist and the den mother.
It was put to a test again when the Bucs and 66-year-old Arians began talking about another opportunity of a lifetime. There had been concerns about Arians' health, and some of those belonged to his wife. They had been out of the NFL grinder for a year. They were happy, content at their lake house in Georgia as Bruce worked as a TV analyst.
No matter. His wife knew. Probably knew during Bruce's first TV telecast, when he used profanity while describing a play.
That's my Brucie, Christine thought.
"It made me giggle," she said with a smile Thursday. "He could always make me giggle."
But she knew.
"You know what, he's going to have health scares no matter what he does. He could be sitting in the recliner at home. But when I heard the excitement in his voice I thought, my gosh, this is so much better for him than sitting at home."
Bruce and Chris, Chris and Bruce. It's the love story behind that procession of jobs and moving vans. They couldn't have made it anywhere without each other.
"No. Not even close," Bruce Arians said.
"We're in this together," Christine said.
Bruce and Chris, Chris and Bruce.
"You do know I've known him since we were 14, right?" Christine said. "We were in the same grade, the same homeroom. He was so shy. I don't remember talking to him the whole first year. I talked to his buddy Mike all the time, but (Bruce) never joined the conversation.
"Sophomore year, he sat behind me in homeroom. I had French. He'd had French the year before. He figures that's something I can talk to her about. I'll offer to help her with French. Now, understand, I'm the straight 'A' student and he's the 'Oh, I can get a 'C' without working too hard' kind of guy. But I let him help me. He was kind of cute."
They raised two children (well, Christine did) and have a third grandchild on the way.
"Look, you're moving every few years on average, right?" Christine said. "He goes onto the next job, he walks right into a new group of friends, a whole new staff. You're stuck talking the kids into wanting to come, finding the schools, getting everyone enrolled. The wives do everything but bring home the paycheck and coach football. The people I value most in this world are coaches' wives., the ones who can pick up and move the family, keep the family together."
She had demands before he took the Bucs job.
"I told him I'm going to see those grandkids once a month. That's the deal. I told him we're going to have a travel budget and we're going to use every penny of it. We're both from big families, we're both one of five kids, so we have all these nieces and nephews and grandnieces and grandnephews. They're all Brucie fans."
Tampa Bay might have those soon enough.
"I think he's going to be a hoot, too," Christine said.
Bruce was a three-sport star in high school. She was a cheerleader, at least through junior high.
"But, to tell you the truth, I think women need to be doing their own thing, not cheering for the boys," Christine said.
They followed each other to Virginia Tech, where Bruce played quarterback. Christine earned her undergraduate degree and later a law degree from Temple, where Bruce was head coach. She passed the bar exam in five different states as the coaching life took hold. Christine volunteered as a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) for at-risk children while Bruce coached in Arizona and already plans to do the same in Tampa Bay.
"I've watched her save kids one at a time," Bruce said.
Christine Arians is den mother again, to coaches and their wives, and to all those at-risk children.
The den mother laid it out for playbook dad when his health started biting him.
Christine said. "I was, 'All right babe, you've got to make yourself a priority more than you have in the past.' He thought he was indestructible."
Their marriage is.
"How do you stay married 47 years?" Bruce Arians said. "You are probably apart 20 of them. You get fired, move to another job. She would raise the kids and come six months later. Just start all over again. New romance."
Same old romance, really, like that first kiss in the alley out back, Chris on the cinder block.
Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or 813-731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly