TEMPE, Ariz. — For the majority of their 4½-year marriage, Zach and Julie Ertz didn’t know what it was like to be a “normal married couple.”
Their respective careers — Zach a tight end with the Arizona Cardinals and Julie a defender for the U.S. women’s national team and most recently the Chicago Red Stars — often kept them apart. They’d have a month together here, a couple of weeks there and maybe a weekend in between. Despite being married, they were in, essentially, a long-distance relationship. They had to rely on their phones to stay connected, texting all day, sometimes FaceTiming six or seven times a day.
“We kind of joked that we had a relationship with our phones because like, if it wasn’t for FaceTime, I don’t think it would make those days that we weren’t together go by easier,” Julie said.
One year, they saw each other just 84 days.
“We’ve been doing this for an extremely long time,” Zach said. “And, unfortunately, we’ve gotten good at it.”
But in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world and America went into quarantine, the Ertzes found themselves together all day, every day for the first time since they met while both attended Bay Area universities.
Their life together the past two years has mostly consisted of a training together, rehabbing injuries together, a cross-country move after Zach was traded from the Philadelphia Eagles to the Cardinals, an Olympics in Japan and two NFL seasons. And for the first time in their relationship, the sense of anxiety they each experienced when the other needed to leave for an extended time to join their team happened only once, when Julie reported to the Chicago Red Stars for the start of training camp Feb. 1. Even that time apart was truncated after she tore her MCL in the season opener.
On Sunday, Julie, who was traded to Angel City FC on Thursday, will see Zach and the Cardinals take on the Bears in Chicago (1 p.m. ET, Fox), where she played for more than seven years. She’ll do so with life having changed for the both of them. Mostly for the better.
“It’s not weird. It’s great,” Julie said of spending more time together. “I think people are shocked by that, but I don’t really get annoyed with him. I’m fine sitting in like silence with him and I feel like that’s when you know you’re just super comfortable. I don’t need to talk all the time.”
Being together “day in and day out” has allowed the couple to just “really enjoy being married,” Zach said.
“It was a glimpse into what life would be like when one of us was done playing whenever that may be — and we love it.”
Everything’s a competition
Within a couple of weeks of quarantining with each other in 2020, Zach and Julie quickly figured out they needed a workout routine.
They’ve been creatures of habit their entire athletic lives, but they had never found themselves together in an offseason setting. Usually, their seasons were opposite each other. They found parks around Philadelphia to work out in and although they didn’t do many of the same exercises, they “were able to really just push each other,” Zach said.
“We do work out a lot,” Julie said. “It’s kind of obnoxious.”
They just wanted to be together.
While there are some major differences in their training, they showed each other a new thing or two.
Julie loves distance running, even going for long runs on vacation. Zach hates it.
“I don’t get how someone can go just to run on a treadmill for an hour,” he quipped.
But they worked on their speed together, racing each other, even though Zach always won, and Zach would do some of Julie’s core stability exercises.
He also started incorporating some soccer into his warm-up by dribbling a ball the length of the field before workouts. Sometimes Julie asked him to kick passes to her. That didn’t always go well.
“I’ll get yelled at,” he said. “My soccer skills aren’t up to national team level and it really bothers me that she holds me to such a high standard and she’ll belittle me sometimes if my passes aren’t as accurate as they need to be. But I try my best, I try my best.”
There’s a natural competitiveness constantly floating between them. And nothing is spared.
They had to start tracking their gin rummy games because of how often they disputed who won after a night of playing. They’ll challenge each other to a game of HORSE on their backyard basketball hoop to see who does the dishes.
“I’m definitely winning HORSE,” Zach said, although he admitted Julie has improved her basketball skills while conceding she waxes him in any foot-dominant activity.
However, it doesn’t matter how often Zach wins. “Either way, I’m gonna end up doing the dishes,” he said.
They don’t race to see who can fold the most socks in five minutes, but Julie said she’s the better cleaner and makes the bed better. Zach vehemently denies the latter.
“No, that is not true,” Zach said. “I would challenge that tenfold.”
So what does Julie think Zach is better than her at?
“Video games,” she said. “He’s going to be so mad I said that.”
This past summer gave both Zach and Julie a new experience: They rehabbed together.
Zach had ankle surgery in early January and Julie tore her MCL in mid-May during the first half of the Red Stars’ season opener — nine-and-a-half weeks before the Olympics opener. They drove together to rehab every morning with Julie, unable to bend her knee, in the back seat not wanting to talk to Zach. They had two training tables in the corner. Zach went first and then Julie had her rehab.
It was, as they called it, “couples therapy.”
Having Zach there, someone who has had injuries before, who understands the emotional roller-coaster, who understands the mental battle and physical demands of rehab, was invaluable to Julie.
“I could be so vulnerable, I can be so honest, I can be so brutally honest and just every thought and insecurity and worry that I ever had,” she said.
“I was kind of the one that had to cook and kind of carry more of the burden and that’s just what people do,” he said. “That’s what life is: some other person’s down, the other person’s got to pick them up.”
Each relationship, each marriage is unique. None, as Zach pointed out, are perfect. For the Ertzes, though, having someone at home who understands what the other is going through and “gets the whole picture,” Julie said, is great.
“It’s been a real blessing for both of us, I think because every adversity, trial, coaching thing that I’ve had to deal with, she’s already dealt with it,” Zach said.
They also hold each other accountable. When one is too tired to go work out, the other pushes them.
To everyone else, they’re Zach Ertz the football player — a Super Bowl champion with the Eagles who has scored three touchdowns in five games since being traded to the Cardinals — and Julie Ertz the soccer player — a two-time World Cup champion and former U.S. Player of the Year. To each other, though, they’re husband and wife. And, at the end of the day, they want to go home to each other, talk about their day, make dinner and be together.
For the first time in years, they’ve been able to do that.
“You go home and there’s someone that loves you just for who you are, not the athlete, not the football player, not what everyone else sees — just for who you are,” Zach said. “And, so, I think it’s just rewarding to just be able to come home and know that regardless of what’s going on in life, in football, that you have someone that’s always going to be in your corner, regardless.”