STILLWATER — The one-acre yard surrounding Glenn Spencer's Stillwater home is now enclosed by a three-rail fence with mesh wiring.
It's designed to prevent dogs from running away — but not necessarily either of Spencer's canine pals. His lab, Max, and beagle, Tezzie, have already been trained by the shock collar invisible fence.
Jeannine Edwards, however, isn't big on that philosophy for her lab, Susie.
“I hate those stupid things,” Edwards said with a chuckle. “I asked him if he wouldn't mind fencing in the yard for Susie because, yeah, I just don't think those things are great.”
It's a concession Spencer is more than happy to make for his soon-to-be wife.
This unconventional love story features a deep connection formed between a college football assistant coach and an ESPN sideline reporter, who were first linked through tragedy on a day they never actually met. It's a romance that grew in almost purely long-distance fashion between an East Coast gal and a man in Middle America. It's a relationship that escalated both gradually and rapidly over a period of about 18 months.
And the arrangement will continue to be a bit abnormal even after Spencer and Edwards marry Friday in Tenafly, N.J.
They'll still spend multiple days separated each week because of their demanding jobs that come with plenty of travel and attention from the outside world. In a way, what originally brought them together will continue to keep them apart.
Proximity hasn't ever really been a luxury for Spencer and Edwards. Not much of any of it has been normal, really.
Yet building that fence represents the start of Spencer and Edwards building their life together — not just for the first time in the same home, but for the first time in the same state.
They unexpectedly fell in love. They've managed until now. And they'll continue to manage as husband and wife.
“We kind of knew what we were up against from the start,” Spencer said “ ... It's tough sometimes, and there has to be an unbelievable amount of trust and love and commitment. And there has been from both of us.
“That's the only reason that it's worked.”
The origin of Spencer's and Edwards' relationship will always be connected to OSU's game against Texas A&M game in September of 2011.
That's when Spencer returned to work following the death of his wife, Angela, after she battled heart disease for 12 years. Edwards was in College Station, too, reporting on how Spencer's Cowboys honored the coach and his wife with “AS” stickers on their helmets.
Because Spencer was in the coaches' booth and Edwards on the sideline, they never actually met that day. Their first encounter came a few weeks later, when OSU hosted Baylor and Edwards' broadcast team was again assigned to cover the Cowboys.
How that first meeting exactly happened depends on which member of the couple you ask.
Edwards tells a story of seeing Spencer sitting on the bench during pregame warm-ups and approaching him to relay her condolences. Spencer claims he doesn't remember any of that, and that he instead got up off the bench to track her down on the sideline to say thank you for her work in College Station.
“We laugh about that all the time,” Edwards said.
Either way, the exchange was brief. Yet during a repeat viewing of that Texas A&M game later on, Spencer was touched by the way Edwards handled covering Angela's death. So he got a hold of Edwards' number.
A simple “thank you” text after that season eventually turned into longer messages, then phone calls.
“Your conversations get a little deeper,” Spencer said, “and you feel like you kind of open yourself up to a person and you let your guard down, and she does the same thing. And all of a sudden, a relationship blooms …
“Everybody just says how happy they are for me. They know that I had been in a valley for a long, long time. It's been a blessing and really a gift to have some happiness like that now.”
Spencer, the man OSU entrusted to turn around the Cowboy defense as its new coordinator, hails from Georgia and is the father of teenage boys Luke and Abe.
Edwards, a divorced Jersey girl, trained and rode horses before beginning her reporting job at ESPN in the mid-90s; a job that recently had her jetting off to cover Brad Stevens' hiring as the Boston Celtics' head coach one day and Derek Jeter's first minor league rehab start in Pennsylvania the next.
Their common ground, at least on the surface, is college football. Yet even though each says they've gained respect for the other's career, they rarely talk about work.
When asked what they bonded over instead, both mentioned the other's love of dogs. Really, that's a sign of the warm personality each possesses, even when Spencer comes from a coaching world often defined by toughness and discipline and Edwards a television world often defined by ego and celebrity status.
“He's very sweet, he's very sensitive,” Edwards said. “In general, all women say they love a sensitive guy. Well, he's one of those guys.”
Added Spencer: “What drew me to her? Just an unbelievable, caring person. A big heart.”
That comfort level and trust in their commitment has been crucial during the months where actually being together has been a special treat rather than the norm. Yet the fact that both are independent has also helped make the long-distance relationship manageable.
“The fact that we're both very busy with our own lives helps because if one of us was sitting at home with nothing to do, it would be deadly,” Edwards said. “It would be too much time thinking about not being together or, ‘What's he doing?' or, ‘Why isn't he calling me back?'”
Added Spencer: “The key, I think, to the longevity of a relationship is just the mutual respect and just realizing the other person can have a life and some independence and some things that make them happy besides the relationship, which I think is healthy for both people.”
And because their lives have largely been separated, both Spencer and Edwards have picked up new experiences and interests from the other.
Spencer now keeps a yoga book on his desk in his OSU office after Edwards dragged him to classes to help alleviate his back pain. Spencer also asks Edwards tons of questions about horses, showing a genuine curiosity Edwards says the coach has for most topics. And Edwards, who has no children, has gotten a close look at the care, devotion and time commitment it takes to be a parent.
Over the past year or so, there have been dinners at Bricktown and in Washington, D.C. Meet-ups at the Preakness Stakes and in New Jersey. Hikes in Fair Hill, Md. and Scottsdale, Ariz. Baseball games in Stillwater and trips to the top of the Empire State Building in New York.
The important people — Spencer's sons and Edwards' bosses at ESPN, most notably — were kept informed of every step as the relationship blossomed.
Then in February, Spencer popped the question to Edwards on the beach in Florida.
Spencer and Edwards both know the next step on this journey together will be a big adjustment, as they've never spent more than three or four days together at one time.
And both confess the change will likely be more jarring for Edwards.
She will gather many of her belongings and drive from her home in a small, rural town near Fair Hill to Stillwater in mid-August. She will go from living alone, what she's done for most of her adult life, to sharing a house with three men.
Which is why Spencer has been going out of his way to make sure Edwards feels at home in her new town. He put up that fence for Susie. He vacated his bedroom closet to give Edwards more space. A storm shelter is on the way, as well.
“He is so thoughtful and so caring that he's bending over backwards to do whatever he can to make sure that I'm comfortable,” Edwards said. “He wants me to be happy there and he understands that this is a monumental change for me.”
But first, the wedding.
Spencer and Edwards will marry in an intimate, family-only ceremony in Edwards' parents' backyard. Then they will honeymoon at Edwards' family cabin near Jackson Hole in Wyoming, where they plan to relax on the deck and ride horses through the mountains and make an appearance at a cowboy bar where the bar stools are saddles.
“When two people overcome the geographical differences and the jobs and everything,” said MaryAnn Phillips, Jeannine's sister. “To take a big step really makes you think they are very much in love and that they really want to be together. And at that age, you don't underestimate that type of thing.”
Soon after, the craziness of college football season begins for both.
Edwards will continue to travel three or four days a week for games and assignments. She will keep her home in Maryland and spend much of the spring living there while covering ACC basketball. That, she said, will help ease the transition period by keeping her close to her family and friends on the East Coast.
Thus, this unlikely pair and unconventional love story will, essentially, proceed as usual once Spencer and Edwards become husband and wife.
After all, that's become their normal.
“It's just been something that we both wanted, even as unconventional as it was,” Spencer said. “Even though it was a strain, because we'd love to see each other more, there hasn't been any doubt that one day we were going to spend our life together.
“It's just going to be in a different type of way.”