You give a woman a look, and sometimes she reciprocates and
other times she puts her head down and paws the ground and
growls like a hungry dog at its bowl. To some, love at first
sight is a rare, mythic event reserved for characters in steamy
romance novels and Saturday-night date pictures. To others it's
as routine a part of the day as Jerry Springer and phone calls
to the Psychic Friends Network.
The first time Angie Harmon ever saw Jason Sehorn, their eyes
locked briefly as he was walking past her outside the home locker
room at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. It was Sept. 19,
1999, and the Giants had just lost to the Washington Redskins
50-21 in their home opener. Harmon, who stars on the popular TV
series Law & Order, was standing near an exit ramp when Sehorn,
who hadn't played that day because of a hamstring injury, went
walking past with his mother, Nancy Alexander, by his side.
"My girlfriend Lisa Livingston spotted him first," Harmon
recalls. "She goes, 'That's Jason Sehorn.' And I'm like, 'My
goodness, he's cute.' But he walks right past us. It's so funny:
He's going in one direction, and I'm going in the other, and
we're looking at each other and I'm waiting, but he doesn't say
Harmon had attended the game as a guest of Giants defensive
lineman Michael Strahan and his wife, Jean, having heard from the
couple that the recently divorced Sehorn was someone she might
like to meet. The cornerback had been hearing the same about
Harmon. Only that week he'd seen her picture in IN STYLE
magazine. All right, he thought, Angie Harmon. That's the girl
Strahan was talking about.
December 4, 2000
"So there he goes," says Harmon. "I said to myself, Huh, that's
odd. But I could understand why he wouldn't stop. I was like,
Well, Angie, he's just come out of something horrible, and you've
just come out of something horrible [a bad relationship]. So why
don't you pray about it? And that's what I did. 'You know what,
God?' I said. 'If I'm supposed to meet this man, then I'm
supposed to meet him. If not, that's fine.' But after he walked
away, I was like, 'O.K., God, great. Thanks.'"
Sehorn's look, fleeting though it was, was hardly the first
Harmon had ever attracted. A former model who has appeared in
magazines like Elle and Harper's Bazaar, Harmon has been featured
in the role of assistant district attorney Abbie Carmichael on
Law & Order since 1998. Soon she'll star in the romantic comedy
Good Advice with Charlie Sheen. "Except for maybe SportsCenter, I
don't watch much TV," says Sehorn. "Tell you the truth, until
Strahan brought her name up one day in the locker room, I didn't
know who she was." Sehorn, arguably the most glamorous pro
football player New York has known since Joe Namath quarterbacked
the Jets a generation ago, is no less accustomed to being stared
at than Harmon. At 29 he possesses the classic good looks that in
a more restrained era inspired furniture manufacturers to create
fainting couches. He too has worked as a model, sometimes in
clothes, other times largely without them, the corrugated sheet
of his abdomen adjoining muscular slabs at his chest.
In the last two years advertisers ranging from Charles Schwab and
Sprint to Tommy Hilfiger and Nike have turned Sehorn into one of
America's most ubiquitous pitchmen. He has been a guest on Oprah
and The View. But only three years ago Sehorn was known less for
being pretty than for being as fine a defensive back as there was
in the NFL--not to mention the only white cornerback in the
league. His 4.3 speed in the 40 allowed him to run with any
receiver, and at 6'2" and 215 pounds he could pound like a
linebacker. Sehorn's fluidity and grace made him a marvel to
watch, never more so than in a 1997 playoff game against the
Minnesota Vikings when he intercepted a Randall Cunningham pass
and maneuvered past one would-be tackler after another on a
36-yard return that set up a Giants field goal.
"Jason was shutting people down," says Johnnie Lynn, coach of the
Giants' defensive backs. "He had such confidence that year. He
was competitive on every down, and he never wanted to leave the
field. He was what you dream about for all your corners: the big
size, the big arms, the ability to run and to hit. You knew, as
his reputation grew, he'd become a Pro Bowl player year after
Then came Aug. 20, 1998, and the preseason game with the Jets in
which Sehorn, returning the opening kickoff, tore both the
anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments of his right
knee. "My worst nightmare," said Giants coach Jim Fassel after
the game. Lost for the season, Sehorn came back in 1999 with
neither the skills nor the confidence he'd displayed two years
earlier. Before training camp he bulked up to 232 pounds,
although he already carried more muscle than ever, having
undergone a rigorous rehab that kept him in training six days a
week. While he still possessed a sprinter's speed, he was slow
breaking on the ball and vulnerable against quick wideouts who
didn't limit their games to straight-up-the-field go patterns.
The aforementioned hamstring injury, suffered during an
off-season workout, kept Sehorn sidelined for the entire
training camp and the first two games of the '99 season, and he
missed the last four games with a fractured left fibula.
"I played like a stray dog last year," says Sehorn. "I had less
security, and I wasn't comfortable back there. I believed I could
do the job, but the body and the mind didn't come together."
This season Sehorn has played well enough to suggest that he has
returned to form. Fassel has said as much, as have other coaches
and several players on the 8-4 Giants. Through Sunday, Sehorn had
56 tackles and two interceptions in 10 games. "I've always said,
when he is healthy, he is the best corner in the NFL," Giants
strong safety Sam Garnes said early in the season. "I wouldn't
want to play behind anyone else. He is the real deal."
Players and coaches on opposing teams added to the chorus
announcing the cornerback's rebirth. "He's one of the best
athletes at corner you'll ever see," said Baltimore Ravens coach
Brian Billick. "It sounds like he's very intent this year, very
focused on his profession, which sometimes happens when you have
an injury and you realize all this can disappear. As an opponent
you have to be careful if you really want to go at his side."
While Sehorn confides that he's been "caught guessing a few
times," he does allow that he's playing "leaps and bounds" better
than he did last year. In his seventh NFL season he weighs 214
pounds, just above his lightest as a pro. "As far as reading
plays and reacting to them," he says, "I'd say this season I'm on
a par with how I played in '97. But I still have a hard time
looking in the mirror and going, 'You're good.' I'd rather just
go out and play and let my coaches evaluate my performance."
Early in the season sportswriters who cover the Giants went so
far as to say that Sehorn's presence on the field had improved
the play of the entire Giants defense. It was an argument the
cornerback didn't buy. "It would be close to asinine to think
that because I'm healthy and playing again, we as a team are
successful," he said. "O.K., suddenly I'm good again, so
everybody else is too? Come on. That's embarrassing. And it
really paints a bad picture of the people who sweated their butts
off two years while I was barely around."
In the second week of the season the Philadelphia Eagles
challenged Sehorn on their first offensive play. Quarterback
Donovan McNabb pump-faked to receiver Charles Johnson as he ran a
slant pattern, but Sehorn wasn't fooled. Johnson turned upfield
and Sehorn ran with him, prompting McNabb to toss the ball away.
The play answered a couple of key questions about Sehorn. Would
opposing teams test him to see if he was up to speed? (Yes, and
in a hurry.) Was he prepared to handle whatever challenge they
threw at him? (Perhaps never more so in his professional life.)
"Playing football right now is the only thing I have to do,"
says Sehorn. "I don't have to be concerned about anything else.
It's really a comforting feeling, to be at ease, with nothing
distracting you from your job." Sehorn's renewal on the field
has renewed his popularity among fans of the Giants. When he was
hurt, not everyone regarded him with sympathy, despite the fact
that he suffered his injuries while in the service of his team.
Tired of Sehorn's magazine spreads, charity appearances and
advertising deals, people wrote him letters saying he had his
priorities confused and was working harder for outside interests
than for what really counted: the Giants. Teammates wondered the
same thing aloud. One knock against Sehorn, dating back to when
he was in high school in Northern California, has been his
inability to maintain focus. If he was posing for
fitness-magazine covers and Italian fashion designer Ermenegildo
Zegna, how could he be concentrating on a return to the game?
Last year, before a preseason game against the Ravens, Pat
Hanlon, the Giants' vice president of communications, approached
Sehorn on the sideline during warmups. "The concept of
overexposure...does that mean anything to you, Jason?" asked
Hanlon, one of Sehorn's closest allies in the organization.
"Oh, yeah," came Sehorn's reply. He was wearing street clothes
and sitting out yet another game because of injury.
"Has it occurred to you that people might be getting sick of
you?" Hanlon continued. "Every time they open a magazine or turn
on TV, they see Jason Sehorn. You don't think they get tired of
"Pat, you're right," Sehorn answered. "But you have to see it
from my perspective. This is a short-term opportunity. It doesn't
last a lifetime. And guess what? I'm not going to let it pass."
"What would you do if you were in his shoes?" says his teammate
Garnes. "It's easy for people to be critical of Jason. But if you
were being given those opportunities, would you say no to them?"
Sehorn's problems over the last two years have not been isolated
to football. In 1998 his marriage to former University of
Virginia volleyball player Whitney Casey fell apart less than
three months after he had blown out his knee and only nine months
after their wedding on Valentine's Day. Sehorn had met Casey
during his senior year at USC, and they'd dated for nearly six
years. "I grew up to believe you're not supposed to get a
divorce," Sehorn says, "but I should be grateful Whitney made the
decision she did. We split because, as she said, everything was
always about Jason, Jason, Jason, and she wanted to pursue a
"It really wasn't about Jason, Jason, Jason, because it wasn't
his fault," says Casey, now a TV news reporter in South Florida.
"I look back, and I understand that I needed time to develop on
my own. Every woman needs to have that time in her life, before
she gets married, when she establishes herself. In my mind Jason
was like a knight, and he will always be like a knight. He's
strong and brave, and he's a remarkable person. Now that I've
been on my own for a while, I realize how lucky I was to know
Not long after Casey left, Sehorn told his mother that he wanted
to get away from his home in Teaneck, N.J. Casey had decorated
the four-bedroom house, and it held too many memories. He
retreated to a condo in Newport Beach, Calif. Not wishing to buy
new furniture, he rented "only the bare essentials," as he puts
it: a couch, a bed, a kitchen table, a coffee table. He bought a
bike, a skateboard and a pair of in-line skates, and nearly every
day he took one or another along the Strand, as inconspicuous as
the next guy, a hat covering his head. On the skates, he says, "I
always made sure I pushed off my right leg--the one I'd damaged.
It was a great workout. And no one recognized me. This is
Southern California, remember? The same place that let two NFL
Old pals from his USC days tried to get him to date, but Sehorn
was reluctant. "Did I go out sometimes?" he says. "Yeah. But I
wasn't looking for anybody." Then one day in February 1999 there
came a knock on his door. Sehorn pulled it open and faced a
stranger who looked pleasant enough. He said, "You Jason Sehorn?"
The man produced some papers, ripped off a top copy and handed it
to Sehorn. It was a court document stating that Casey had filed
for divorce. "To say it didn't hurt would be a lie," Sehorn says.
"I was married to this person. You're supposed to make it work."
Sehorn sought counseling with his minister, but otherwise his
disappointment and heartache remained private. Months passed
before friends and teammates learned that he and Casey were no
longer together. "What was I supposed to do," he says, "write an
article about it?"
"This was when Jason started taking flights across the country,"
says his mother, Nancy. "He traveled constantly. And he always
seemed to take red-eye flights. He would fly out on a Monday
night, return on Tuesday, fly out on Thursday, come back on
Saturday." Most of the excursions were between California and New
York. On the plane, Nancy says, "he'd have five hours when no one
could call him and he had no responsibility. He'd read his Bible.
It went on that way for three months, from February to May. I
don't think Jason was trying to escape from life, but I do think
he wanted a reprieve from it."
"Honey," his mother told him, "I think you ride planes like I
used to ride trains--except you get to go first class."
It was also Nancy who said, "Hey, there's that girl."
This was four months after he'd stopped his aimless traveling,
and he and Nancy were outside Giants Stadium, walking toward the
parking lot. "What girl?" Jason said, knowing exactly which one
and wondering about her.
"Abbie Carmichael," Nancy said. "The one on Law & Order."
Jason kept walking. "Honey," said his mother, stopping at last,
"I hate to say this, I really do. But I'm going to say it
anyway. I'm not real impressed with you or any of your football
friends, but I am with her. I want to go back and tell her how
much she's added to that show."
Nancy started back for Harmon before Jason could respond. As she
did so, Livingston, Harmon's friend, saw her coming and said,
"Oh, my god, don't move."
"What is wrong with you, Lisa?" Harmon asked.
"Look casual. Don't move." Livingston waited another moment, for
the long beat of a heart, then said, "Angie, turn around."
"So I turn, and I'm face-to-face with Jason Sehorn's mother,"
recalls Harmon. "I go, 'Hello.' And she goes, 'You're that girl
from Law & Order, aren't you?' I go, 'Yes, ma'am, I am.' She
says, 'I want you to know I think that show is wonderful, and I
think you're wonderful.' I say, 'Well, thank you.' Then she goes,
'Oh, and I'd like for you to meet my son Jason.'"
It was only right that his mother would introduce him to the
woman of his dreams, because for years it had been the two of
them, Jason and Nancy, alone against the world. Jason's father,
Mike Sehorn, a truck driver, divorced Nancy when Jason was two
years old, and for months she and the boy hopped Southern Pacific
trains up and down the West Coast with no clear destination in
mind. They stopped finally in Sacramento. Nancy opened a
hairdressing salon, and she called it Odyssey, a name that aptly
described her life with Jason.
Odyssey was over a popular restaurant named Paragary's, and the
owner, Randy Paragary, was such a generous soul that he never
squeezed Nancy for the $150 monthly rent when she was late to
pay. Odyssey had only one chair. Until Nancy retired last year
at age 50, she never made more than $13,000 a year. While in
Sacramento she married Mack Alexander, a construction worker,
and had a second son, Colby, but in less than a year she broke
from Mack too.
"My mom never dated after that," says Sehorn. "She didn't want
different men coming to the house. Her theory was, she didn't
want her boys exposed to any bad influences. She sent Colby and
me to a private Christian school, although she couldn't afford
to. The respect I have for my mother is incredible. She got me
here, she did it with faith and values and determination and
sacrifice, and she did it alone."
Even Nancy's closest friends lovingly call her "a piece of work."
She grew up in a conservative home during the rebellious 1960s
and became a Republican after reading an article by William F.
Buckley Jr. in Playboy. She admired Richard Nixon and Ronald
Reagan and found inspiration in the objectivist philosophy
espoused by writer Ayn Rand. When Jason and Colby were children,
Nancy didn't own a car. "Cars weren't a necessity," she says,
"but back then neither were a lot of other things."
They lived in the barrio in downtown Sacramento. In their little
rented house, Jason and Colby shared one room, and Nancy made do
in the front room, formerly the living room. In the morning
nine-year-old Jason helped his diapered two-year-old brother onto
a city bus and rode with him to a preschool program; then Jason
transferred to another city bus for the long ride to his school.
Nancy refused any government assistance such as welfare or food
stamps. Jason knew they were poor because some incident would
inevitably serve as a reminder. "When you go to Marshall's for
school shopping," he says, "and the clerk at the register takes
out a pair of scissors and cuts up your mom's credit card in
front of the whole store, you know things aren't easy."
"My sons were raised by a single mother not because of fate or
God," Nancy says. "They were raised by a single mom because their
mother made poor choices. I did this, I let it happen. I told
them that the way we lived was not normal and not the normal way
God would have children raised."
Even when Jason was a toddler, Nancy told people that he was
going to be an Olympic star. When he was four, she put him on a
large girl's bicycle and couldn't get over how he shifted his
little body from left to right as he pumped the pedals, saying,
"I can do this, I can do this, I can do this." Nancy bought Jason
a nine-dollar skateboard when he was six and watched in awe as he
glided along the street.
When Jason was a freshman in high school, Nancy borrowed a
friend's Mercedes and drove Jason and his date to a dance. "One
day, Mom, I'm going to buy you a car like this," he told her.
They laughed because such a scenario seemed ridiculous. The next
year they moved to Mount Shasta, Calif., from where Nancy
commuted to Odyssey. The town, at the base of snowcapped,
14,000-foot Mount Shasta, is an hour from the Oregon border, and
the enrollment at the high school was only about 300.
Jason didn't go out for football until his senior year, when his
school's new coach, Joe Blevins, convinced him that he might not
make a half-bad receiver or running back. "I was the classic late
bloomer," says Sehorn, who ended up playing both positions. "I
was the undersized kid who saw the football players beating each
other up in practice and wanted no part of that. Also, you had to
maintain a 2.0 grade point average, and I didn't see the purpose.
I was the 15-year-old who missed class and said, 'I'm not going
to ever need this stuff. E=mc2. Oh, does it? Well, great! Do you
think I want to be a chemical engineer?' I was a punk kid, is all
"The first time I saw Jason," says Sonny Stupek, then the
football coach at Shasta Community College in Redding, Calif.,
"he was a senior playing an away game at Fall River High in
McArthur, out in the middle of nowhere. Before the game Jason was
laughing and doing back flips in the end zone. While his
teammates were running tight little drills, he was trying to slam
footballs over the crossbar on the goalpost. Jason played
tailback that night and rushed like 20 times for 48 yards.
Granted, that's no big deal. But get this: He also returned three
kicks for touchdowns."
Because Sehorn was such a poor student, he was classified as a
Prop 48, ineligible to play immediately at an NCAA Division I
school. This meant that Shasta, a junior college in the Golden
Valley Conference, had a chance to lure him to its football
program. One day, when Stupek saw Sehorn working out in the
Shasta gym, Sehorn palmed a regulation-sized basketball in each
hand. Stupek, on a lark, directed Sehorn to stand under a basket.
"Jason," he said, "I want you to jump, spin around and jam both
of those balls."
"But they both won't go in at once," said Sehorn, who at the time
stood 6'1" and 195 pounds.
"I want you to stay up there long enough to get them both in,"
"O.K.," Sehorn replied, and he did as he was told.
Sehorn did not play high school baseball, but after graduating he
went out for an American Legion team, the Siskiyous Spirits,
mainly because he was looking for a good time with his buddies.
In July 1988 he caught the eye of a Chicago Cubs scout who, after
seeing him play in only three games, signed him to a $60,000
contract. But two years of struggling to hit the curveball in the
low minors persuaded Sehorn that he was wasting his time, as well
as the Cubs'. "The pitcher throws a slider," he says, "and you
kind of look at it and say, 'What did he just throw me?' That was
me for a while."
In 1990 Sehorn was back home and on the football team at Shasta
Community College. The first time he touched the ball, against
Oakland's Laney College, he took a lateral from a teammate on a
kickoff return and ran 93 yards for a touchdown that won the
game with 30 seconds left. The next week, against the College of
San Mateo, he caught five passes and ran each one in for a
touchdown. "He killed everybody," Stupek says. "Our attendance
more than doubled during the time he was here, from an average
of about 2,000 to one of 4,000 or 5,000, and every game was
standing room only. We were an average team, but that didn't
matter. There was a carnival atmosphere. People came from all
around--from the hills around where he lived--just to watch
Sehorn signed with Southern Cal after twice being named junior
college All-America. The Trojans moved him to safety, then to
cornerback, and he came into his own as a senior, with seven
interceptions. The Giants took him late in the second round of
the 1994 draft, and after Sehorn came to terms with the club, he
bought his mother a Mercedes. "I promised you this," he told her.
In a few years Nancy had sold the car and replaced it with a
Dodge Ram pickup truck, practically the biggest and noisiest
thing on the road. "Cute little lady in this giant snowmobile,"
Sehorn says. "Got to be the funniest thing you ever saw in your
On their first date Sehorn and Harmon went to dinner and a movie.
The film was a Harrison Ford vehicle called Random Hearts, and
Jason later said he wished he'd liked it more. The best thing
about it might have been its title, which pretty much expressed
how the actress and the football star regarded themselves at the
moment. You give a girl a look, and the next thing you know you
want to spend the rest of your life with her.
They dated for two months before they realized that they were in
love. "When you've been through enough stuff in life, you start
to think, There's nothing special about me and there's nothing
wonderful, either," Harmon says. "I grew up in a good Christian
family, but before Jason came along, I was starting to wonder if
God found me appealing at all. Then all of a sudden God hands me
this perfect angel, and says, 'O.K., Angie, here you go. You went
through all that so you could be the right person for Jason. Here
he is. Take him.'"
She told him she wanted babies, four of them, and he said great.
She said she wanted to raise their family in Dallas, where she's
from, and he said fine. When the subject of becoming engaged came
up, he was both available and elusive, encouraging and vague.
More than anything, he wanted the proposal to be a surprise. "I'm
not just going to give you a ring over dinner," he told her one
night in a restaurant.
Then came a day last March when she was set to appear on The
Tonight Show. On the limo ride to NBC Studios in Burbank, Harmon
asked herself the same question over and over again: What about
my life can possibly be interesting enough for me to be on The
Tonight Show? She was alone in the big dumb car; Jason had an
appointment in Newport Beach, something to do with the sale of
his condo. She arrived at her dressing room two hours before
showtime and had her makeup and hair done. When Jason finally
turned up, he gave no indication that anything out of the
ordinary was about to happen. He simply sat on a couch and talked
to the people in the room.
"Before the show Jay Leno comes in, and he totally knows what
Jason is planning to do," Harmon says. "He says, 'So I hear
you're pretty serious with this guy.' I look at him, because Jay
knows I don't talk about my personal life. I finally say, 'I
really don't want to talk about him, Jay.' He goes, 'Sure, I
understand.' But then he says, 'Do you think this is serious? Do
you think you guys are going to get married?'"
Harmon didn't know how to respond, except to stare. She mumbled
something like, "Oh, definitely," and Leno went away at last.
Then, minutes later, she's sitting with Leno on the set, and he's
giving her the same routine, and this time the show is being
taped for an audience of millions. "I was like, Jay, what are you
doing?" Harmon says. "I'm thinking, Oh, this is great. I'm going
to jail for killing Jay Leno."
Leno, who would tell PEOPLE magazine that Harmon was staring at
him with "knife eyes," then surprised her by introducing Sehorn
and bringing him out from behind the curtain. Harmon says she
could think of only one thing: "Angie, you will never do The
Tonight Show again." Then the most amazing, the most romantic
thing happened. Jason Sehorn suddenly was kneeling in front of
her, offering a diamond engagement ring ("without a doubt the
most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life," says Harmon)
and asking if she would marry him.
Harmon was so shocked that she felt as though she were sucking
all the air out of the room. Her hand went up to her mouth, as
much to get it to work as to cover it. She needed half a minute
to offer a response: "Jason, oh, my god, baby...yes!"
"We have a video of the show," he says, "and sometimes we pop it
in and watch it all over again."
"I watch that tape and I hear Jay cracking jokes," says Harmon,
"and I realize that when Jason was kneeling there, I didn't hear
any of that. It was him and me and no one else. The ring wouldn't
go on, so we were pushing it on, and I was looking at Jason and I
was in shock."
Friends would tell her she took forever to say yes. Across
America people were sitting up in bed waiting for her reply.
Harmon was too stunned to speak. "I guess I freaked out," she
says, "but what I will never forget is how dear Jason was. He
stayed there on one knee until I finally said yes--a good 20 or 30
seconds, which is a long time on The Tonight Show, and a long
time anywhere else, especially when you're proposing to somebody.
"A part of me thought I would never do this well," Harmon
continues. "I thought I'd end up with a really good guy, but
never one as special as Jason. You know what?" The actress pauses
and issues a thin trickle of laughter. "At our wedding next June,
as soon as they announce us as Mr. and Mrs. Jason Sehorn, I'm
going to turn around and face all the people in church and scream
'Score!' as loud as I can."
He's one of the best athletes at corner you'll ever see," says
Billick. "You have to be careful if you go at his side."
Even when Jason was a toddler, his mother told people that he
was going to be an Olympic star.
The Trojans moved Sehorn to corner, and he came into his own as a
senior, with seven interceptions.
"The concept of overexposure...does that mean anything to you,
Jason?" a Giants executive asked.
He wanted the proposal to be a surprise. "I'm not just going to
give you a ring over dinner," he said.
After Sehorn came to terms with the Giants, he bought his mom a
Mercedes. "I promised you this," he told her.