God, Family, Football: A Love Story

Jaimi Hovan of Lutz opens up about marriage, motherhood, life as a professional sports wife—and what matters most.

Jaimi Hovan is an open book; her love story, a page turner that starts with a lot of forgetting.

She met husband Chris Hovan at The Round Up in 2005. They were both there alone. Jaimi just lost her grandmother and needed some time to herself. Chris was in town to meet with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

And to be honest, Jaimi said, she thought he was a little off.

"I asked him where he lived and he said he lived on an island," Jaimi said.

"Davis Islands?" she asked. Yes, he said. But when she told him she lived on Harbour Island, he said that was the one. Then he couldn't remember what street he lived on until she said the name of her street.

That's my street, Chris told her.

"You're crazy," Jaimi recalls saying.

"I had no idea who he was," Jaimi said. He told her he just moved to Tampa, but she wasn't sold on his story, so when he asked for her number, she got his instead.

About an hour after he left, the bartender asked about him. Not because he recognized the former Minnesota Vikings player, but because he'd forgotten to cash out at the bar.

Jaimi offered to pick up the tab, but when she saw the amount, she called Chris instead.

"I was single and poor, I couldn't even pay my own bills and I don't even drink," Jaimi said. "He said 'I knew you'd call', and I said 'I'm just calling because you didn't pay your bar tab'."

By the time Chris got back, the bar was closing. He asked about getting together later, since they lived next door to each other.

"I was like, 'We don't really live next door'," Jaimi said. She told him he could leave; he mentioned his driver was taking him home.

"Your driver?" she recalled thinking, further affirmation the guy was not quite right.

When Chris left, Jaimi made sure to leave behind him so he didn't follow her home. She ended up following him home instead—because as it turned out, he did live on her street.

They talked till the wee hours of the morning that night.

Two weeks later, she moved out of her grandmother's apartment and in with him. Another six months passed before Chris woke her up at 5 a.m. on Christmas Eve and said they needed to talk.

"He was being so serious, I was sure he was breaking up with me," she said.

Then he proposed.

He had a game that day, so he gave her a quick kiss and left, Jaimi said. She was elated. The only problem was that it was so early, there was no one she could share the news with right away.

"I must have called a hundred people and nobody picked up," she laughed.

They married in 2006, and had their first child, Christopher "C.J.", in 2007. Nine month later, they had twin daughters Cecelia and Caylynn. They built a new home in Lutz, surrounded by love and orange groves.

It can be an overwhelmingly busy life—with three infants at home Jaimi said she cried daily in those first two years—but they're never too busy to give back to Jaimi's hometown as often as they can.

The Hovans work with the Hemophilia Foundation of Greater Florida, which they got involved with because Chris' niece is affected by the bleeding disorder, Jaimi said.

They also do a lot of work with the Pediatric Cancer Foundation.

"We love any charity that helps kids," Jaimi said.

A popular group fitness instructor at the Bob Sierra YMCA in Northdale, Jaimi recently found another way to support the community as a competitor in Tampa Bay's Dancing with the Stars.

Jaimi won best female dancer, and in the process raised thousands of dollars for Hands Across the Bay.

"It was an easy way to give back, doing what I love and helping my community at the same time," Jaimi said. "That was really important to me."

Some community members aren't always so nice in return, though.

"The public can be so quick to judge," Jaimi said. "And people just make stuff up sometimes."

Early in their marriage, Jaimi wanted Chris to do anything fans asked of him.

"He'd be mid-bite at a restaurant and someone would ask for a photo or an autograph and I wanted him to do it for everyone regardless," Jaimi said.

"He would always do it for kids," she said.

But an innocent photo turned into an Internet smear in 2009. The rumors and public spotlight has made their relationship difficult at times, Jaimi said.

Nothing too difficult to overcome, though.

"Our marriage is built on a really solid religious foundation," she said. And their shared beliefs when it comes to raising children, money management and their favorite music keeps their marriage strong.

"We're really, really thrifty," Jaimi said. "We have our wedding rings and our cars and that's it."

Jaimi said she can't remember the last time they went on vacation, but they do treat themselves to as many concerts as possible.

"Music is a really important part of our marriage," Jaimi said. They met at a country music bar, after all.

And the football? Well, there's that too.

"The kids love being a part of it," Jaimi said. "I love the community work and being a part of the wives' organization."

The transition from player's wife to coach's wife has been an adjustment for her— the dynamics are different, she said.

And there's always that worry in the back of her mind as to what the future holds.

"We've been blessed to be able to stay in my hometown," Jaimi said. But not knowing where you might be six months down the road is one of the toughest parts of being in professional sports, as a player or as a coach.

The Bucs released Chris in 2010. He signed with the St. Louis Rams, but a back injury ended his season, and eventually his playing career. In 2011, he joined the University of South Florida Bulls staff as a strength and conditioning coach.

Earlier this month, Chris took a position with the Tampa Bay Storm as a defensive line coach. That was welcome news to Jaimi, who is expecting their fourth child.

"We had a difficult year in 2012, and that really put everything into perspective," Jaimi said. "I used to stress about what was going to happen in the future, but I realized that anxiety was taking away the present moments with the kids and my family."

Now, Jaimi said, she looks for the positive in every day and finds balance in their sometimes chaotic lives by taking one moment at a time. 

"Our family is the most important thing to us."

Sylvia Rose February 14, 2013 at 05:02 PM
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