Joe Haden's marriage proposal was a family affair. The Cleveland Browns cornerback had planned a dinner for his girlfriend, Sarah Mahmoodshahi, and 20 of their closest friends and relatives under the guise of a sendoff for Sarah's older brother, Reza, who was moving to London. But the Sept. 27, 2012, event at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, on the National Harbor near their native Washington, D.C., was really an engagement party that included the actual engagement. As guests mingled during the cocktail hour, Joe took Sarah's widowed mother, Narges, aside and asked for permission to marry her only daughter. He then dropped to one knee in front of a stunned Sarah and popped the question.
"I didn't want anybody to really know until they just saw me on my knee," explains Joe, now 24. "And then that's when everybody was like, "Ooh! He's doing it! He's doing it!' "
The Hadens' June 29 nuptials at the legendary Fontainebleau Miami Beach — one of the couple's favorite getaway spots — was also a production of impressive proportions. The ceremony and reception, which included the cultural traditions of Sarah's Iranian-born parents, embodied her childhood fantasies of what a wedding should be: "over the top, but in a classy way."
"I didn't want it to be old-school," the 27-year-old Marymount University grad says, "but I still wanted the old-school elements."
Sarah's first step in achieving the desired white decor was ordering more than 19,000 square feet of white carpeting to cover the Glimmer Ballroom's blue-patterned counterpart. "Some people looked at me like I was crazy when I said I was doing it," she admits. "But to me, the white carpet just gave [the ballroom] a very clean look. We actually donated the carpet to Habitat for Humanity afterward, so it didn't go to waste." She also rented white furnishings for the cocktail and dining areas to be set up in the ballroom. Accents of blush and gold in the tablescapes and arrangements of peonies, roses, hydrangeas, orchids, calla lilies and tulips influenced Sarah's choice of dress for her five bridesmaids: a strapless, floor-length style of blush chiffon with silver-and-gold beading at the empire waist.
Finding a wedding gown was a bigger project. Sarah and her Miami-based wedding planner, Carrie Zack, repeatedly tried and failed to obtain a dress by Israeli designer Inbal Dror that Sarah had seen on Pinterest. "They don't sell her stuff in the U.S. — she's only in London and Israel," Sarah explains. It was only after Sarah gave up and bought a second choice that she learned the wedding planner had finally reached the designer, who offered to send a trunk show to a Miami bridal boutique just for Sarah's viewing. Sarah and her mother arrived at the shop with the intention of picking up a second dress for the reception. That all changed, however, when Sarah saw the 10-dress selection included the creation she'd been seeking for so long: an ivory-lace mermaid design with a corset-style bodice and layers of tulle at the flared bottom.
"I tried it on, and my mom goes, "Don't worry about the money. I bought the other dress, [but] who cares? It's done. I'm buying both these dresses,' " Sarah says. The second Inbal Dror they took home was a fitted, off-white, satin gown with a high neck punctuated by a massive brooch and trimmed in a border of pearls that continued around the plunging back. Sarah changed into it halfway through the reception.
Joe was content to let his fiancé oversee the planning. One of the few things he requested was a substantial invitation. He approved a textured ivory paper printed in gold, mounted on a rectangular, 12-inch-long mirror and banded in blush-satin ribbon.
"When people got the invite to our wedding, I wanted to make sure they knew it wasn't just a normal wedding — it was going to be a big event," he says.
The Browns star also insisted upon choosing his own attire: a black, made-to-measure Tom Ford suit, white shirt, ivory tie and gold-spiked Christian Louboutin loafers for the wedding, and a navy blue, made-to-measure Etro suit, black bowtie and black Hugo Boss shoes for the second half of the reception. The more conservative footwear was selected in deference to his bride-to-be, who'd bought glittery Louboutin platform pumps to wear with her second dress.
"I just like looking nice," he explains. "I said, "If I can look nice twice, why not?' "
At 5:30 p.m. on June 29, security guards opened monogrammed, gold-plated gates that served as the bride's entrance to the ballroom. Approximately 275 guests watched as Sarah's brother Reza escorted her down the aisle while a 12-piece orchestra played "Endless Love." Joe's paternal grandfather, the Rev. Joseph Haden Sr., performed a Christian wedding ceremony under an acrylic canopy covered in roses, hydrangeas and hanging crystals. The couple then sat down at a low-mirrored table set with items representing various aspects of their future — coins symbolizing wealth, for example — for the "Sofreh Aghd," an Iranian wedding ceremony. The celebration, conducted by a Mahmoodshahi family friend, included the ritual of happily married couples rubbing canes of sugar above a sheet held over the bride and groom's heads. "It's taking the sweetness from their marriages and giving it to the newlyweds," Sarah explains. The Hadens sealed their union by each dipping a finger in honey and feeding it to each other.
After the ceremonies, guests filed into a section of the ballroom converted into a lavish bar with white couches and white-feather-boa-strewn cocktail tables. The nibbles included a jumbo-shrimp station, a nod to Joe's favorite jumbo fried shrimp; three kinds of Sarah's beloved macaroni and cheese; and two specialty cocktails: a Cotton Candy Martini and a Strawberry Collins. Sarah remembers being amused by the sight of so many muscle-bound NFL players carrying pink drinks.
"They loved them, though," Joe assures.
Staffers drew a white curtain at 7 p.m. to reveal a dining area furnished in round and square white-lacquer tables and rectangular tables covered in blush tablecloths, all surrounded by white leather chairs. The dinner menu consisted of Joe's must-have crab-cake appetizer and a choice of filet mignon, pan-seared halibut or chicken Ballantine. The cake-cutting was preceded by a traditional Iranian "knife dance" performed by three of the bride's single female friends, each of whom teases the groom by extending the knife to him, then pulling it away, as she dances solo. (The last dancer finally hands over the knife.) Then Sarah and Joe cut a 12-foot-high wedding cake, a confection built of five alternating tiers of red-velvet cake iced in cream-cheese frosting and a lighter "blush-velvet" cake finished in buttercream.
The guests danced to alternating sets by a local band and Iranian disc jockey. At 12:30 a.m. Joe's friend, Z 107.9-FM personality and official Cleveland Cavaliers disc jockey DJ Steph Floss, took over the sound system, playing a clubbing mix of hip-hop and rap until 3:30 a.m.
After the weddng the Hadens enjoyed a 10-day honeymoon on the Caribbean island of Anguilla.
on the guest list. Cleveland Browns Josh Gordon, D'Qwell Jackson, Greg Little, Chris Ogbonnaya, Craig Robertson, Ahtyba Rubin, Jabaal Sheard, Buster Skrine, Phil Taylor, T.J. Ward and Brandon Weeden; former Browns head coach Pat Shurmur; former Browns Josh Cribbs, Trent Richardson, Alex Smith and Benjamin Watson; Chicago Bears safety Major Wright, Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey, Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, St. Louis Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins and sports agent Drew Rosenhaus.
all for fashion. When Joe found those gold-spiked Loubontins at a Christian Louboutin shop in New York City, they were the last pair of their kind in the United States — and a size too small for his feet. "It was tough to put them on," he says. "But I was like, "These shoes look so good, I'm just going to have to take the pain.' "
A match made at the Verizon Center. Joe and Sarah met in a suite at an Alicia Keys concert in Washington, D.C., on March 25, 2010. Both attended the show at the invitation of a mutual friend. "He was obviously good-looking," Sarah recalls. "From that point on, I got to know him. He spoke so well, and he was very confident, but not cocky."
Online shopper. Joe found Sarah's diamond engagement ring — a 6-carat round stone with a halo of diamonds in a platinum setting — on the website of Alek Vartan, the Los Angeles-based designer who created Khloe Kardashian's engagement ring, a piece of jewelry he'd overheard Sarah admire.
No-phone zone. Joe and Sarah asked guests to leave their cell phones and cameras with a cell-phone valet. "We didn't want to be on TMZ," Sarah says. The couple rented two photo booths and hired four photographers to take pictures throughout the reception. The couple posted approved images on a secure website for guests to download.