PHILADELPHIA — As the clock ticked down to the fairy tale moment Zach Ertz and his wife had imagined together, his Philadelphia Eagles teammates’ families flooded from the tunnel under Lincoln Financial Field onto the turf. There were wives and kids and babies, all there to celebrate a Super Bowl berth. For Zach, though, it was a little bittersweet.
His wife had a prior commitment.
“Obviously it’s tough not having her out there, with the confetti going,” he said after the Eagles blasted the Minnesota Vikings, 38-7, in the NFC championship game. “All the other players got their wives there.”
Julie Ertz is one of the most accomplished soccer players in the world. She was in San Diego on Sunday, scoring a key goal in a victory for the U.S. Women’s National Team. When the match was over, her teammates told her that Zach was going to the Super Bowl. She cried.
— U.S. Soccer WNT (@ussoccer_wnt) January 22, 2018
And in the locker room after, when Zach saw the video of Julie crying, he cried, too.
— Geoff Mosher (@GeoffMosherNFL) January 22, 2018
They are now, suddenly, sports’ most accomplished couple. Zach is Super Bowl bound as an Eagles tight end. Julie is already a World Cup champion. Football king, fútbol queen. Yet to hear them talk about each other, both before they were famous and now, it’s pretty clear that sports has only a supporting role in their relationship.
“Our marriage wasn’t based off athletic success,” Zach said. “We met in college. I didn’t know she played soccer; she didn’t know I played football.”
Six years ago, Julie showed up at a baseball game at Stanford, where Zach played football for Jim Harbaugh. He went up to her, and they hit it off right away. He went to visit her in Santa Clara, where she played for the Broncos. She found he could help her with her running form, and he found she could help him with his agility.
“She’s, like, a really flexible person,” Zach said Sunday. “Any stretching stuff. She loves yoga; I tag along with that, too. She makes amazing food. I can’t wait to see her. She’s on a flight tomorrow.”
Their careers took off almost in unison. Zach was drafted by the Eagles in 2013, in the second round. Then in 2015, he became a WAG of sorts – a soccer boyfriend who traveled around Canada supporting Julie as she chased her World Cup dream. He wore her jersey, No. 19 with her maiden name, Johnston, and hung out with NBA point guard Jrue Holiday, husband of now-retired midfielder Lauren Holiday. When fans gathered to get Julie’s autograph, they really had no clue who Zach was. “Julie was definitely the star,” he said back then. He was more than fine with that. “I just wanted to be a fan,” he said, “and support my wife.” But when Julie’s team won it all, Zach wanted some of that glory, too.
“I felt like I’m lagging behind,” he said with a grin.
Well, now’s his chance.
“Hopefully we’ll experience the same thing at the Super Bowl. She’s definitely gonna be there,” Zach said before offering a joke. “I told her I’m not talking to her if she doesn’t come. She’s gonna be there. I’m proud of her.”
It would be easy to imagine some ego or arrogance emitting from each of them. It’s not like either is a forgettable role player or a benchwarmer. Both are wildly successful at a young age. But there is hardly a trace of attitude. After the biggest win of his football life on Sunday night, Zach asked a reporter to help him adjust his collar and happily veered into talking about Julie. And Julie, during her World Cup run, put Mickey Mouse stickers on her headphones and spent her time on long flights with coloring books. They each seem to have perspective.
“We just love doing what we do,” he said. “Obviously it’s a short season of our life, playing sports. Eventually we’ll just settle down. I’m proud of her. She’s proud of me. We love being in Philadelphia.”
This city has actually been a huge help to both. Obviously Zach has found a career here. But Julie moved here to be with her husband and started training with New Jersey native Carli Lloyd and her coach, James Galanis. That has escalated her to new dominance: she’s now the reigning U.S. Soccer female player of the year.
She will be an enormous part of the Americans’ bid to defend their World Cup next year, and he will be an enormous part of the Eagles’ game plan against the Patriots.
But they’ll also be just Zach and Julie, a couple of 20-somethings who met at a baseball field and then got engaged in the same place in 2016.
“She’s always there for me, through the highs and lows,” Zach said. “That’s all you can ask for.”
The highs have been incredible. And another one may be soon approaching.
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