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.
“He knows the history of the team, and he cares about it,” Moseley says. “He’s just a down-home kid who loves the game and loves Washington. He’s good for the city.”
Last season was frustrating for Cooley. New head coach Jim Zorn came from an offense in Seattle in which tight ends were an afterthought, and Cooley found himself with little to do in the off-season’s practices.
“I had to go in and beg for more plays,” he says.
Cooley and Gibbs had gotten along well. The veteran coach, who owns a race-car team, had flown him on his plane to Charlotte, where Cooley became friends with driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.
But Cooley says Zorn—whom he calls Z or Z-man—is more approachable. “I don’t think I ever spent more than five minutes in Joe’s office talking to him,” he says. “I can sit for an hour in Zorn’s.”
Still, Zorn has shown little patience for Cooley’s antics to break the routine of practice. The coach took Cooley aside one day when he wore tight retro shorts that looked like hot pants.
“Gibbs did not care what you did, what you wore,” Cooley says. “The goofing around—I don’t even know if he noticed. Z is a fan of team unity and everyone being the same. He does not like short shorts; I was directly made aware of that. But it’s not like he’s a jerk about it. He’ll just talk to you.”
During the season, Cooley caught a team-high 83 passes, which again put him among the elite of league receivers. Yet he caught only one touchdown, often drawing two and three defenders as the Redskins neared the end zone.
This year, he’s counting on the team’s young wide receivers, Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly, to draw more attention from defenses. The team should also be more comfortable with Zorn’s offense.
“I want to be better,” Cooley says. “I want to have a huge impact on our offense and be the guy who can spark a drive and get us going.”
Christy arrives home carrying groceries, her long blond hair spilling over a green sundress. While a Redskins cheerleader, she posed naked for Maxim magazine with only a strategically placed football. In contrast to the brassy photos, she comes across as sweet and a bit shy.
Christy appears in a lot of photos on the Cooley blog. In most of them, she’s wearing clothes. But before their wedding in 2008, Cooley penned a valentine to her and posted snapshots of her topless at the house—in front of the stone façade, in the wine cellar—arms demurely covering her breasts.
Cooley was married to his high-school sweetheart when he arrived in Washington, but they divorced soon after. They’d gotten engaged on a whim and were never happy, Cooley says.
He met Christy when another Redskinette he was dating brought her along to his house one summer Saturday night. She walked in “like she had climbed out of a poster in my high-school bedroom,” Cooley later wrote on his blog. She was “dressed to make men panic.”
Christy Oglevee was a cheerleader at Loudoun Valley High when, as a senior, she made the Redskins cheerleader squad. At 18, she joined USO shows in Iraq, flying in Black Hawk helicopters and sleeping in Saddam Hussein’s palace.
Because the Redskins don’t allow employees to fraternize with players, Cooley and Christy dated undercover. Their first kiss came after a stroll through Fair Oaks Mall. “It was in the parking lot,” Christy says. “Then I went to practice.”
When the Redskins discovered the romance, Christy was fired from the $75-a-game job. Mike Wise of the Washington Post broke the news of their engagement and told of one prenup family outing—father, daughter, future son-in-law, and others—to a West Virginia strip club.
“Everyone knew who Chris was,” Christy told Wise. “The owner came out, they gave us VIP treatment, and all of a sudden I look up and the strippers are dancing to ‘Hail to the Redskins.’ ”
Christy graduated from Loudoun Valley in 2003 and now works at her father’s hair salon in Chantilly. When he’s not at Redskins Park, Chris often spends time painting in a spare room that’s stacked with canvases, many of them landscapes from Wyoming, where he was born. There’s a pottery wheel in the garage—and a collection of half-finished pots.
“I am really good at throwing pots,” Cooley says. “I’m not very good at finishing them. I’ll throw them, I’ll trim them up, and then they just sit.”
Cooley’s parents divorced when he was in grade school. His mother, Nancy, who moved here from Utah a couple of years ago, lives nearby and teaches business at Briar Woods High School in Ashburn.
Cooley says he and his father, Ken, who owns an auto-body shop in Wyoming, are close but that he wasn’t around when Chris was growing up.
“I’m learning man things now,” Cooley says, including how to be Mr. Fix-It around the house. Replacing a light socket, he grounded the wrong wire and sparked an explosion. “We turned the light on and boom!” he says.
Cooley recently bought 400 acres and a cabin near his dad in Wyoming, and he and Christy spent several weeks there this summer.
“If I go camping with my dad, it’s sleeping bags, no tent, and at least a case of beer,” Cooley says.
Another recent purchase: a fishing boat. On a beautiful morning, as they sat drinking coffee on their deck at home, Christy suggested that they go fishing. Cooley, who says he has the impulsiveness of a teenager with ADD, lit up. “I need a boat,” he said.
“So instead of enjoying the day,” Christy says, “we drove around everywhere looking for a boat.”
In May, the couple spent their first anniversary on the Potomac, and Cooley caught his first fish from the new boat.
Cooley didn’t even know what a blog was before the Cooley Zone launched in March 2008. His younger brother, Tanner, and a friend wanted to sell autographed Cooley paraphernalia online. Cooley writing about Cooley would bring traffic to the site, they figured.
Since its debut, the blog has drawn more than 3 million visitors, as many as 50,000 a day. It’s made $200,000, according to Tanner, who draws a salary and is saving for medical school.
Cooley, Tanner, Yoder, and others post video, photos, and commentary, some of which prove that athletes never grow up. In one video, Yoder reenacts Cooley’s popping a pimple in the locker room.
Cooley, who can be blunt with reporters, doesn’t hesitate to rattle cages with his blog. He questioned the work ethic of ex-teammate Jason Taylor in one post. When he popped off about inflated rookie salaries, he compared the pre-draft audition for college players, called the NFL Scouting Combine, to a strip club.
“The better the man looks running around in his spandex, the more dollar bills end up on his stage,” he wrote.
Many of the blog posts reinforce the image of Cooley as Mr. Everyman leading a charmed life. There are funny videos of him battling a wasp nest and attacking a fallen tree with a newly purchased chain saw.
“As I get halfway through the tree,” Cooley wrote, “I realize I’ve been outside for less than a half hour and I’m sweating like an immigrant worker in the beet fields. I begin to think the Costco logs weren’t such a bad plan.”
These glimpses, the intimate photos, the frank talk—they’re all part of the playbook for anyone marketing to the millennial generation, says Matt Winkler, who heads Georgetown University’s sports-management program. Twentysomethings were raised on real life packaged as entertainment, whether on Survivor of MTV’s The Real World. They crave authenticity, Winkler says, and Cooley gives them what looks like the real thing.
“He comes across as a regular Joe who does all this fun stuff and married the hottie,” Winkler says. “To a lot of guys, he’s hit the jackpot.”
The penis photo landed Cooley in trouble with the league, which ordered the psychiatric evaluation. “I had to do a call with some lady,” Cooley told an online interviewer. “I thought it was gonna take two minutes, but it was like an hour. It was horrible.”
But the incident burnished his reputation as “the freakin’ coolest football player of all time,” as one sports blog calls him. Prepping at home for a game, he snapped a photo of the game plan in his lap, with the offending appendage edging into the frame. Bloggers thought it was awesome: Who else but Cooley would study his playbook naked?
The photo of Cooley and Christy in bed added to his Internet fame. But the couple cooled on the reality-show idea, in part because the producers wanted them to manufacture drama and conflict in their lives.
“If MTV said, ‘We’ll pay you guys a hundred grand an episode,’ then we’d probably do it,” Cooley says.
Though the photo looked professionally done, Cooley took the snapshot with a camera propped on a chair. He set the time delay on the shutter and jumped into bed time and again to get the right shot.
“We were not having sex,” Christy says.
A few things in Cooley’s life remain private. For now.
This article first appeared in the August 2009 issue of The Washingtonian. For more articles from that issue, click here.