Strange things happen to star athletes like Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "When I re-signed my contract, a fan sent me actual dollar bills with my face Photoshopped on them. That was really interesting." Fortunately, Chris's solid foundation and family, as well as his dedication to giving back, keep him grounded.
He met wife Leah nine years ago in a Bible study class when they were students at the University of Kansas. "The first thing I noticed about Chris was his smile. Every time I saw him, he was grinning from ear to ear," she says. Leah, who admits to being quite timid, was impressed by Chris's participation in class. "He didn't seem like a typical jock; he was different. I told my roommate I would give him a chance, even though I had a strict no-athlete dating policy."
By the end of sophomore year she remembers looking across the room at him and thinking, Now, why can't I find a guy like that to marry? "God definitely has a sense of humor," she remarks. "I bet he had a good laugh at me that day!" Chris was impressed by the way the shy, quiet beauty carried herself, and thanks to mutual friends they got to know each other well before they started dating. "I love how smart and independent she is. Well, the rest is history," he laughs.
The cornerback is enjoying a good life but admits he wasn't always on top of his game. "I've often felt like the underdog. Coming out of high school, I was rated a two-star player and had only one offer, and that was for the University of Kansas. Now I'm a Super Bowl champion. But even then we were the underdogs—no one expected us to win," says Chris.
And what is that victory like? "The feeling is amazing," he shares. "It definitely makes you hungrier to win every year." But he gives credit elsewhere. "It's all because of God that I'm in the NFL today." Chris, the son of a single mother, was the first person in his family to go to college. He didn't have many scholarship offers, and once he graduated, he wasn't drafted. He was only a walk-on, and it was a huge blow to his confidence. "I'm really not supposed to be here. I had a lot of obstacles to overcome, but in the end, it all worked out."
Chris's sense of gratitude and commitment to giving back are at the heart of the Chris Harris Jr. Foundation. "It's designed to offer kids an opportunity to participate in free camps where they can learn not only athletic skills but also life skills, healthy eating, academics—everything. We try to give them all the tools they need to be successful and make it to college."
The other young mind that Chris and Leah want to enrich belongs to their feisty toddler, Aria. "She's like a little adult," remarks Chris. "So sweet, but so sassy." The couple is expecting another baby this summer, a detail that has Aria intrigued. "She will pat my belly and say, 'Bay bee,' but I don't think she really understands what's about to take place," says Leah. "I know she'll enjoy having a sibling—she's a social butterfly. A live-in playmate will be a dream come true for her."
When not chasing Aria around, Leah works on her design line, which will launch next year. She admits that being a football wife has its challenges, especially during the season, when Chris doesn't have a day off. "We try to remember that it's a blessing and do as much as we can with the time we do have." As for Father's Day, Chris is happy to keep it simple: "I just want to relax and play with my kid!"
Which qualities do you love most about each other?
Leah: I love Chris' spirit; he's such a giver and has such a big heart. I also think he's a great leader and makes good, sound decisions.
Chris: I love how smart and independent Leah is. She is very social, always making friends everywhere we go.
You're new parents. Describe the experience. What you have learned so far, and what surprises you most?
Chris: It has been the best feeling in the world. As corny as it sounds, we really learned how to love someone unconditionally from the first moment we met our daughter. You hear many parents make that statement, but experiencing it for yourself? You just can't describe it. Aria is already growing so fast and it's very bittersweet. We love seeing her develop and learn new things every day but also miss her being so tiny and cuddly.
Leah: I'm happy to have another baby on the way so I can get my cuddle sessions back!
Chris, describe your rapport with your fellow Denver Broncos. Do you hang out with any of them off the field?
Oh yeah, we are all like brothers. I went to KU with Aqib so we go way back, and Von and I came into the league at the same time. We are really good friends. After every game the whole defense goes to Von's house and hangs out.
Leah, tell us about your clothing business.
I started off by embellishing jerseys, hats and clothing, but my vision is changing and I really would like to do something new and different. I'm in the beginning stages of something exciting, so hopefully I will be able to announce it later this year!
How do you balance your busy schedules?
Sometimes it's really hard, especially during season, when we don't really get any alone time and Chris doesn't have an off day. But we make it work. Often it's the little things: I'll sit and talk with Chris while he's getting worked on and stretched by his physical therapist, and I cook every day, so we always sit and eat together as a family.
But when it comes to the off-season, we really savor our time together; we go on vacations and visit family to relax. And Chris loves to barbecue, so I take full advantage of him cooking dinner in the summer!
Chris must have to maintain a strict diet and exercise regime. Do you ever work out together? What are meals like in your home?
Chris: That's how Leah and I spend time together in the off-season. We love working out together. I also have a trainer for the off-season who works me out five days a week.
Leah: I like to cook pretty healthy meals. We eat a lot of fish and chicken with vegetables. Every now and then, I'll make Chris some comfort food—fried catfish and baked mac 'n' cheese. His one treat is wings every Saturday while he watches college football.