''I asked her to walk around the mountain with me,'' he said.
Mike Holmgren was smitten from the start. Kathy Bowman wasn't so sure, even though she agreed to the steep, one-mile walk through the redwoods that day.
From then on, theirs was mostly a summer romance. His grandparents and her parents both had second homes in Scotts Valley, an idyllic spot five miles from the ocean and an hour from San Francisco and Monterey. Mike first proposed marriage in a card to Kathy when he was 15.
But when it came time for college, their relationship became a long-distance affair, virtually put on hold until her junior year. She entered nursing school in Chicago; he headed off to Los Angeles to play quarterback at USC. After graduation in 1970, she went on a mission trip to Africa; he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals.
She returned after 10 months in the Democratic Republic of Congo determined to go back to one of the world's most impoverished lands if he wasn't ready to get
married. He had failed to stick on the rosters of the Cardinals and New York Jets and was about to embark on his coaching career.
Fortunately, Mike Holmgren realized what he had found. The man who would come to be known by his Seattle Seahawks players as ''The Big Show'' was drawn to a woman who admittedly is ''not a spotlight person.''
''She's special,'' he said, beaming.
''I tell people 'If it's meant to be, it's meant to be,' '' Kathy Holmgren said. ''It's wonderful to marry your childhood sweetheart, but you kind of need other experiences, too. We both had our own lives.''
They both still have their own lives, Mike as president of the Browns, Kathy as a nurse who is devoted to charity work and travels the world with daughter Calla on mission trips.
But when it comes to his bride of 39 years, Mike Holmgren still sounds like the excited young schoolboy hoping for another walk around the mountain.
Can't handle the games
Today, as the Browns host the Kansas City Chiefs in the home opener, Kathy Holmgren will be with her husband at Cleveland Browns Stadium, at least for a little while because youngest daughter Gretchen is visiting. Since their days with the Packers in Green Bay, sitting through one of Mike's games has been nearly impossible for Kathy, save for his final one as coach of the Seattle Seahawks in 2008. When listening to relaxation tapes or her son-in-law's sermons failed to calm her anxiety that brought on Monday migraines, Kathy would watch warm-ups, team introductions and the national anthem, then leave to walk the streets of Green Bay.
''Then I started to go to the movies,'' she said. ''That was the best. They went to a playoff game and I was the only one in the theater. I'll watch Monday Night Football, exhibition, other teams. I care about the players and the success. I'm a wuss, I'm not proud of it, but what's the point.
''I can always go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.''
If he needs to rehash the games, Holmgren has his four daughters, all football fanatics. The oldest are twins — Calla, an obstetrician/gynecologist, and Jenny, former communications director at North Park University, which Kathy and all four girls attended. Emily, a teacher, is married to a minister. Gretchen, who is expecting the Holmgrens' seventh grandchild, is a lawyer who works for the King County Prosecutor's Office. All are married and live in the Seattle area except for Calla, who specializes in high-risk pregnancies in Salt Lake City and is a single mother of a 9-year-old daughter.
''We were there [on Labor Day] weekend and I was looking at the waiver wire with him, saying, 'What about this guy?' '' Calla said of her father. ''He tolerates our opinions. Gretchen is the worst, she should work for a football team. He'll call her about playoff scenarios and who needs to win what. She knows everything.
''Mom knows a lot about it, but she chooses to withdraw because it makes her so nervous. It allows dad some distance, too. There are some things he doesn't want to talk about.''
Making time together
Those instances might be few now. Even in a busy household when the girls were at home, the couple always found time to be alone.
''They always had their time before dinner where they'd go in the living room, no kids allowed,'' Calla said. ''Jenny still brings up the year they went on four vacations without us.''
In recent years, most mornings they work out together, read a devotion and share a cup of coffee before going their separate ways.
Not only was Holmgren surrounded by five women, but his first four grandchildren were girls, too. Now there are two boys, 2-year-olds Luke and Michael, aka ''The Little Show.''
''When Mike got this job, Gretchen had a T-shirt made for Michael that said, 'The Little Show,' '' Kathy said. ''He's only 2, but he weighs over 40 pounds.''
Kathy describes the family dynamic with no longing to be the center of the universe.
''Mike's like the king,'' she said. ''They all love football. They're all very strong personalities, they're all a little bit different. Maybe he'd like to have had a son to play catch with, now he's got these grandsons.''
Calla remembers her father's joy when he learned Emily had a boy on the way.
''When I scanned my sister and said, 'It's a boy,' he said, 'Are you sure? I'm going out and buying golf clubs,' '' Calla remembered.
Calla describes her dad as very protective of his girls, but no pushover.
''I call dad when the washing machine breaks, when I'm lost on the freeway. He's real good about that stuff,'' Calla said. ''But he can be very stern. He was a teacher for a long time. If we'd complain about our teachers, he'd take their side. The maddest I've ever seen him was when I was a senior in high school and was not being very nice to my mother.''
Mike and Kathy have homes in Seattle and Phoenix, but what Kathy describes as ''the stable place in their lives'' is their summer home in Scotts Valley near where they met and married in an outdoor cathedral. The house, with a pool, was built on the land where Kathy's mother's place once stood. Emily and Jenny came for a month this year.
Leaving girls tough
Leaving his girls was one of Mike's biggest obstacles in accepting Browns owner Randy Lerner's offer to become president last December.
''That was the thing I had to work through, not the football stuff,'' Mike said. ''My hope in this crazy business is that the kids could be around. I kind of liked that idea and it kinda happened. After church on Sunday we'd get together and have lunch and fool around with the grandkids.
''Then things changed. They've been through it before. They saw this as kind of our last adventure. But I do miss 'em, no question.''
Kathy said Mike is ''setting the stage for success'' in Cleveland and makes it sound like they have an unrevealed estimate of how long that will take.
''When he talked to Randy about vision, he's put such good people in place to give them the pieces they need to go from there,'' she said of her husband's task. ''With free agency you can turn things around a little quicker than you could before. It's not forever. Nothing's forever. Mike was born and raised in San Francisco, so the West Coast is a little more familiar.''
When their last adventure ends, the Holmgrens and their daughters will likely be reunited. Until then, Calla didn't seem worried about how her parents will fare as they go their separate ways linked at the hip.
''It's the two of them against the world,'' Calla said.