By Ellen McCarthy and Kathleen Hom
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, March 7, 2010; E10
Cleveland is a small enough city that Danielle Berry regularly got to see her assumptions about professional athletes affirmed up close. Players from the Cavaliers and Indians often appeared at the same nightspots she would frequent, and several of her friends ended up dating them.
"I was familiar with a couple of guys -- and the way they behaved," says Berry, 28. "I was always like, 'No way would I ever date an athlete. There's no way. They're out of their minds.' "
So when she found out that Nick Sorensen, the cute guy she'd met at an October 2008 Coldplay concert, was a special teams player for the Browns, she sighed with disappointment: "Another football player."
Not that it was a huge surprise. They'd both been invited to the show as mutual friends of Braylon Edwards, then a wide receiver for the Browns.
The two spoke only for a few minutes that night, but it was long enough for Berry to make it known she wasn't much impressed with Sorensen's profession, or the perks that went with it.
"I remember thinking, 'This girl is really trying to make it seem like she's not here to hang out with athletes,' " says Sorensen, who grew up in Vienna and played college ball at Virginia Tech. "I was like, 'I understand you have your own thing going for you. I respect that.' "
Berry, a University of Michigan grad who works in health care, was intrigued by Sorensen's calm reserve but didn't want to make her interest known. "I'm not that girl -- to be like, 'Who is that football player guy?' "
But two weeks later she got a little giddy after walking into a club, spotting Sorensen and hearing him say, "Hey, I remember you." They each introduced their friends, wound up hanging out all night as a group and heading back to her place to continue the good times after the bar closed. Several people, including Sorensen, ended up crashing there.
When she woke the next morning -- feeling slightly awkward that there were near-strangers sleeping in her home -- Berry turned on the TV in her living room. Sorensen walked out a few minutes later, took the remote from her hand, changed the channel to MTV's reality show "Run's House" and started doing impressions of its stars.
"I was like, 'Really? He just takes the remote? Who does that?' " she recalls. "But he's really good at doing impressions, and I was dying laughing."
After trying to schedule a date for two weeks, they decided to go to an advance screening of the movie "Seven Pounds." An hour before the start time, Berry called Sorensen, crying because her cat was missing.
"First of all, I hate cats," says Sorensen, 31. "I'm like, 'Who cares? You'll come home, and he'll be sitting at the door. These things have sonar.' "
The cat was found, but not in time for them to make the movie. Instead, Sorensen picked Berry up and asked where she'd like to go to dinner. She mentioned a nearby restaurant and started to direct him. Thirty seconds later they were there -- the restaurant was in spitting distance.
"I'm like, 'Who is this girl? We missed the movie because of the doggone cat, and now we're driving 50 yards?' " he says.
"I'm from Ohio," Berry explains. "We drive everywhere."
But the comedy of errors continued over dinner when Sorensen decided to order bison. "And she goes, 'Wait, isn't bison a cross between an elk, a moose and a cow?' " recalls Sorensen. "I was like, 'Is that a real question?' "
He dropped her off that night without a kiss. "Guess I should've known what bison was," Berry remembers thinking. "There went that."
But Sorensen, who describes Berry as "extremely smart," wasn't put off by her blip of naivete. The two began seeing each other regularly, though a lingering wariness persisted on both sides. Berry kept looking for signs of flashiness or entitlement. Sorensen -- who regularly tells airplane seatmates that he works as a bank teller to avoid repetitive conversations about his career -- says that as a player, "you're always skeptical of the girl -- what her motives are."
Their trust and respect grew as Sorensen's season wound down. He joined her on a San Diego trip for New Year's Eve, but soon after that he was gone, leaving Cleveland to travel and train in the offseason. Neither was sure what would become of their fledgling relationship while they spent months apart.
"That's always been tough for me in the past," says Sorensen, who spends part of his time at a condo in Arlington County. "I leave, and then it just kind of goes away."
But he was hopeful this one would last, and upon returning to Cleveland in March he moved into an apartment a few blocks from Berry. From that point on, "things rapidly developed," she says. "I realized early on that I was way happier when he was around than when he wasn't."
Sorensen spent that August in a hotel during training camp, and it "was a big deal if I got to have a cup of coffee with him," Berry says. Throughout that month, a question mark loomed over their relationship as they waited to see whether Sorensen would be cut from the team. When he made the squad, she says, "it was the biggest sigh of relief for us."
That October, after a movie and over pizza on her couch, Sorensen proposed.
The previous season, Sorensen had nearly gone to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers rather than the Browns. It was the season the Steelers won the Super Bowl. "So instead of winning a ring, I bought a ring," he jokes.
Berry's mom always warned her not to choose a husband based on his looks. "She said, 'Marry someone who will make you laugh,' " she says. "And he makes me laugh. Even when I'm mad, he makes me laugh."
On Feb. 27 (27 is the number on Sorensen's jersey), the two wed before 120 guests at St. Aloysius Church in the District. Their reception at the Carnegie Institution was a 1940s-themed affair, with peacock feathers, lounge-style seating and cocktails stirred by bartenders from PX, the Alexandria speakeasy.
Even on their honeymoon in Fiji, Sorensen planned to be training. And Berry's perception of pro athletes has been greatly revised.
"Now when people think the way I used to think about athletes, I'm like, 'That's so wrong,' " Berry says. "I see the amount of work and the amount of heart that goes into this. Nobody's handed anything -- it's something to be commended."