MANKATO, Minn. -- They'd met as freshmen at Oklahoma, the star running back and the pretty girl who eventually would move to Los Angeles to model. Adrian and Ashley Peterson began as friends who liked the same movies, enjoyed the same activities and dated on and off through college -- "two peas in a pod," as Ashley put it -- but their relationship deepened when their son, Adrian, Jr., was born in 2011 and Ashley ended her modeling career in Los Angeles to move to Minnesota with Adrian. After the events of last fall, when his son from a prior relationship died after an alleged assault in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Adrian could see Ashley would stand with him through whatever came their way.
"She's stuck around," he said. "You don't even know what she's been through."
The Minnesota Vikings running back decided last year he wanted to propose to his longtime girlfriend, after realizing he needed to make some changes in his life. The two were married on July 19, after an extensive hunt for a ring -- and maybe a little soul-searching -- led to Adrian Peterson's proposal on July 4.
Adrian Peterson spent six months vetting designers to craft the right ring, talking with Ashley's family about what she'd like and testing different options against his meticulous eye for fashion. He'd designed jewelry for her throughout their relationship and sent back the first engagement ring he received, in early June, when its fancy diamonds weren't a rich enough shade of yellow.
"I said [to myself], 'If I get the ring, it will be easier for me; I won't have any excuse then,'" Adrian Peterson said. "I had been thinking about the proposal -- there was so much stuff I could do. We could take a trip here, do this or do that, but with what I spent on the ring, I was like, 'This right here, I can just close my eyes and [hold it out and] see what happens.'"
The right ring came in during the first few days of July, which brought another obstacle: The NFL's fiercest running back finally had to summon the courage to propose.
The couple had planned to travel to Tulsa, Oklahoma, over the Fourth of July weekend, partly for the 50th birthday of Ashley's father and partly for the belt-busting barbecue that would mark the occasion. After a feast of ribs, sausage, burgers, potato salad, beans and corn on the cob, Peterson stood up and asked for the family's attention.
"I didn't know he had a ring. I didn't know anything," Ashley said. "That's why I was so confused. He stood up, said, 'I have something I want to say,' and got everyone's attention. That's not the kind of person he is, who talks in front of people and expresses himself like that."
With her parents, her aunt, her brother and her brother's girlfriend watching, Peterson got down on one knee and asked Ashley to marry him.
"He definitely sounded nervous. It was so cute, so sweet, really so perfect," she said. "I'm really close to my parents and my brother, and everyone got to be there. To be there with all my family that night, it was wonderful to celebrate that."
Their initial plan, to get married at a courthouse before the start of training camp, changed about a week before wedding, in favor of an intimate ceremony before 30 or 40 people at their house so Ashley's father could give her away. She has a cousin who works as a professional wedding planner and could pull the details together in less than a week. Adrian Jr. was the ring bearer, and Calvin Simmons -- the pastor who'd been meeting with Adrian Peterson for about 18 months, and had done pre-marital counseling for the couple -- flew to Texas to perform the ceremony.
"Boy, was it beautiful," Simmons said. "You would have thought, 'I've seen people plan a wedding 18 months out, and it didn't look that good.' Him and his wife, they looked fantastic, and I think it was time.
"You ever seen what it looked like when peanut butter met jelly? That's what those two are. They balance each other out. They're a beautiful couple."