Some fairy tale endings have false starts.
On Friday, Feb. 23, Philadelphia Eagles safety Rodney McLeod — who just won his first Super Bowl Championship earlier this month — asked his longtime girlfriend, Erika Lee, to be his wife. Now, they’re both sporting important rings.
But the relationship between Lee and McLeod almost never happened.
“I thought she gave me the wrong [phone] number in college. I’m thinking she just gave me a false number because she didn’t want to talk to me,” McLeod recalls. “I saw her again, and I’m like, ‘That’s messed up. If you didn’t want to talk to me, you just could have told me.’”
He rechecked the digits. She hadn’t duped him — he simply texted the wrong person. That was in 2009. He was 19 years old, and she was 18.
Fast-forward to Friday night. To surprise his sweetie, McLeod, 27, told her he had planned a dinner and wore a burgundy blazer, checkered brown pants, and a white button-down shirt. He told Lee they had supper plans with a fancy fashion agency so that she’d be prepared (at least, wardrobe-wise) and could appropriately dress for the occasion. But McLeod secretly had other plans in mind.
“I thought it was just a regular Friday night,” Lee told Yahoo Lifestyle. “I thought we were meeting up with the new team Rod has [in New York].”
The couple was getting ready to leave for their (nonexistent) 8 p.m. reservation at Maloney & Porcelli in midtown.
But instead, they “rerouted” with the help of McLeod’s manager, Antone, who offered them two old-school cars to choose from to drive them to a new dinner destination. Lee chose a 1933 Madame X Cadillac. While she thought it was a bit odd that paparazzi were taking photos and following them, she didn’t consider that a proposal was happening — yet.
Originally, McLeod wanted to surprise Lee with a horse-drawn carriage and make the proposal Cinderella-themed, but his plans had to change. “I had to go back and brainstorm again,” he said, recovering from his initial defeat. “Everything finally got done.”
McLeod, who also owns the men’s fashion store Back of House, in Pentagon City, Va., tightened up all the details two days before getting down on one knee.
After getting in the vintage vehicle, the couple was en route to take a tour of the city — and they were even going to hit Times Square (or so Lee thought). As a native New Yorker, she says she wasn’t that excited about the idea.
In reality they ended up just a few blocks away at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. McLeod’s brother and two best friends and Lee’s sister and close friends were present — and they were all in on the surprise.
They held “Remember when…” signs, a concept McLeod came up with. The first one, “Remember when… I thought you gave me the wrong number,” represented the first time they met. The second sign was inspired by the date they made things official. “I was training in Pensacola, Fla., at the time for Pro Day. She came out. We went to dinner.”
The driver slowed down so Lee could get a good look at the third and final sign as they pulled up to the church on Fifth Avenue: “Remember when we would love each other forever?”
Both of McLeod’s parents were also at the church, where Lee said she hopes to get married. She was also shocked to see her mother there. “My mom’s a tough cookie, so that surprised me.”
Although the engagement details were solidified at the last minute, the football star prepared well in advance when it came to picking out a ring, turning to social media for assistance.
“She posted a lot of her wedding ideas on Pintrest. There were a bunch of ring options, but there was one that just kept popping up over and over and over again,” McLeod told Yahoo Lifestyle. “I went to this jeweler in Philly, showed him the pictures that I had. I was thinking, ‘Is this really the right one that she’s going to love?’”
He picked up the ring, a square cushion-cut diamond in a halo setting, the day after the Super Bowl. (Spoiler alert: She loves it.)
Once the ring was in his possession, it was time to ask her family for permission. “I came up to New York that Wednesday and met with her mom and her sister and asked for their blessings.”
While the carriage detail had to be nixed, McLeod kept the Cinderella-theme alive with a glass box to hold the ring.
Before the engagement, he was nervous, just like a typical gameday. “I just want everything to go as planned,” admitted the Maryland native, two days before he proposed. “I’ve got to go out there and execute. I’m going to just say what’s in my heart. I know she’s going to be super-emotional. I’m just hoping it doesn’t rain!”
All went according to plan when McLeod popped the question, and Lee happily said “yes.” Afterward, the happy couple celebrated with food, drinks, and desserts, surrounded by their friends and more family members.
Less than 24 hours after the proposal, Lee tells Yahoo Lifestyle that she has a season in mind for the couple’s nuptials. “I’m a spring-summer wedding person,” says the bride-to-be. The wedding might even take place as early as next year. “We’ll see if my wedding skills can make it happen!”
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