The photograph leaves little to the imagination. Chris Cooley, the burly Redskins tight end, is in bed with his wife, Christy, a petite blonde and former Redskins cheerleader. She’s lying on top of him, cupping his head in her hand, a gentle kiss on her lips.
While the image is tasteful—no frontal nudity here—there’s not a stitch of clothing on them. When the photo was packaged in a Web video promoting a reality show to star the Cooleys, it ricocheted across the Internet, the latest evidence that nothing in their lives is too private to be made public.
Entering his sixth NFL season, the 27-year-old Cooley has established himself as a premier offensive threat. He’s also a hero to Redskin Nation, a throwback to the glory days of hard-nosed Hogs with a taste for Jim Beam.
But Cooley is extending his fame in the modern way, through an Internet blog that delivers Entertainment Tonight–like looks at his life as an elite athlete. Among Web sites by pro athletes, his is one of the most popular and the most revealing. We hang with him at the Sundance film festival. We see photos of the pool he’s built, with waterfall and hot tub, at his Leesburg mansion. We learn about his favorite Disney World attraction (Soarin’, a virtual-reality ride), his favorite movies (Tommy Boy, Dumb and Dumber, and Caddyshack), and his favorite restaurant (Ristorante Bonaroti in Vienna).
Narcissism is served daily on many athletes’ blogs. “Congratulations! You get to go into the mind of me, Gilbert Arenas,” wrote the Wizards star when he started his.
Cooley’s blog, however, cracks wise about the world of big-ego athletes who take themselves—and their games—too seriously. Asked after the site’s launch why he turns his life inside out on the Internet, he explained: “I have unlimited access to myself.”
That, of course, can be dangerous. Last fall, he posted a photo of his penis—accidentally, he says—and won himself a psychiatric evaluation from the NFL.
Cooley shoots most of his blog videos at home, a stone house that sits on a hill at the end of a long gravel drive. A fountain stands idle at the entrance, and dog toys are scattered in the grass. George, a Great Dane, greets visitors along with Taylor, a six-month-old golden retriever.
Cooley says he bought the house a couple of years ago as an investment, paying nearly $3 million. At 14,000 square feet, it’s so big that the couple doesn’t always discover the mess when one of their Yorkies, Chip and Dale, has an accident inside.
“I haven’t been to the basement in months,” Cooley says. Never mind that it houses a home theater with leather seats.
Todd Yoder, Cooley’s backup and best friend on the Redskins, is a regular houseguest. A ten-year NFL veteran, Yoder won Cooley over when, on his first play with the Skins in 2006, he was knocked silly on a kickoff return and came to the sideline puzzled as to why he was wearing a Redskins uniform.
“I thought, ‘This guy is awesome,’ ” Cooley says. “He’s crazy enough to knock himself out on the kickoff team.”
Yoder studied chemistry at Vanderbilt—a school known for brains, not brawn—and had planned to become a doctor before landing as a free agent with Tampa Bay in 2000.
Cooley, too, entered college figuring he’d make a living on his smarts. Carrying a 3.8 grade-point average in high school in Logan, Utah, he rarely saw action with the varsity until his senior year. Recruited only by Utah State, he studied art there, warmed the bench, and planned a career as a teacher.
But as a senior in 2003, Cooley led the nation in receptions and yards gained by tight ends. Joe Gibbs, then the Redskins coach, liked his toughness—particularly his 40–0 record as a state-champion wrestler in high school—and the Redskins traded up in the 2004 draft to pick him in the third round.
Before the draft, Bill Parcells, then the Cowboys head coach, told Cooley he’d never be more than a spot player. But Gibbs knew better. A two-time Pro Bowl pick, Cooley is already closing in on Redskins records for tight ends—marks set over 13 years by the legendary Jerry Smith—and posting numbers that rival those of future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez when he was a young player.
Cooley’s jersey sales rank in the NFL’s top 20, besting the numbers for more established Redskins star Clinton Portis.
Weary of glitzy free agents who go bust after cashing a Dan Snyder signing bonus, the Redskins faithful hail Cooley as a lunch-bucket guy who deposits his seven-figure checks at the bank drive-through. Although he complains about the routine of practice, he’s missed just one in five years.
His eccentricities and off-the-field exploits suggest to some that Cooley is the second coming of John Riggins, the colorful Redskins star of the early 1980s. Not long after arriving in Washington, Cooley sported a wild blond Afro. In an online interview with Sports Illustrated, he described a Riggins-like drinking contest on the team bus to the airport in his second year.
“Twenty minutes into the plane ride, I’m on the floor in the aisle eating out of an applesauce container,” Cooley said. “Needless to say, I had a visit with [Gibbs] the next morning.”
Old-guard Redskins think Cooley would have fit right in, says former kicker Mark Moseley, head of the team’s alumni group. He’s humble, does a lot of a charity work, and respects fans.
Cooley, who signed a six-year contract for $30 million in 2007, says he wants to spend his career in Washington.