Monday, March 11, 2013
Ex-NFLer Berger finds love on 'Matchmaker'
By Laura Lane Special to ESPN.com
Mitch Berger won a Super Bowl with the Steelers. Now he's got something else to celebrate.
NFL veteran Mitch Berger had no problems finding women to date during the 16 years he played in the NFL. The former kicker/punter also didn’t have any trouble dating when he retired in 2009 and decided to move back to Vancouver. But finding a wife? That was a different story.
“I’d go to a lot of parties -- the Playboy Mansion, parties in Vegas, Miami, all over the place,” Berger said. “I took full advantage of being an NFL player and the opportunities that went with it. I was known as the single party guy. The situation I was in wasn’t exactly the ideal situation to find a lifetime mate.”
On top of the grueling NFL travel schedule, it didn’t help that Berger didn’t stay in one place for very long, playing for 11 different teams over his 16 season, making a long-term commitment even more unlikely. It never bothered Berger until he retired in 2009. He thought he’d finally get the life he dreamed of -- the son to coach and the wife and daughter to come home to. He returned home and settled down in Vancouver, started doing local TV and radio gigs and was the man about town as the owner of several bars in the area. But finding wife material among the women he dated in the bar scene proved to be more difficult than he imagined.
He considered online dating sites.
“A worse situation for me was to end up single, by myself with no family and no kids than to be a little bit embarrassed that my name might be on a dating site,” Berger said.
But then a mutual friend suggested he come in for "Millionaire Matchmaker," the Bravo reality series, which finds matches for wealthy singles. Berger brushed off the idea at first, but quickly had changed his mind.
“They get so many girls throwing themselves at [them] and the more they get the girls, the more they realize, I really just want one,” said Patti Stanger, the show’s host and CEO of the luxury dating service Millionaire’s Club. “It's almost like you've had too much candy in the candy bar and you're sick of chocolate. You can't eat it anymore!”
After all, he would hardly be the first athlete to attempt finding love on TV (Berger’s friend Jesse Palmer appeared on "The Bachelor" and Marcellus Wiley was on Season 5 of "Millionaire Matchmaker"). Even if he couldn’t find a wife on a TV show, he figured the exposure would help his blossoming career as an NFL analyst. So he agreed to come in.
With a net worth of $7 million and a Super Bowl ring from his year with the Steelers, Berger more than fit the requirements.
“It is my No. 1 request -- either the weekend athlete or the jock that's on the market,” Stanger said. “Every girl wants an athlete. They never say, 'I want the metrosexual.'”
He listed his preferences (between the age of 27 and 32, preferably a Jessica Biel look-alike, wants to get married and have kids -- soon) and Stanger got to work interviewing potential candidates. Stanger is known for her boot-camp-sergeant ruthlessness to both women and men on the show, candidly pointing out character flaws. The 40-year-old Berger’s biggest hangup appeared to be his preference for dating 20-something women -- something he was open to changing.
Mitch Berger was a two-time Pro Bowler.
The episode (which airs March 12) begins with a group of women vying for Berger’s attention. He narrows in on Bambi Lashell, a bubbly 32-year-old brunette swimsuit model and former Playboy radio host with a passion for sports (she played softball growing up -- bonus!).
Berger decides to hold off on saying he’s a former NFL player, for fear women might be interested for the wrong reason. (Never mind that the women already know they're being matched with a millionaire.)
“I would say if you’re a football player currently, use it if you’re trying to get a woman for the night,” Berger noted. “That definitely helps if you don’t care what she’s after.”
When Berger tells Lashell he’s a former player, her eyes light up.
"I'm a huge NFL fan,” she coos on the show. "So that means your your kids are going to be athletes? Because I plan to be a team mom."
Ding, ding, ding!
Their first date starts off the way you’d expect any made-for-TV rendezvous to start: Berger takes Lashell on a horseback ride ("You just want to see us bounce,” Lashell jokes) before serving up a home-cooked meal of steak and king crab inside a gorgeous house in Malibu. After impressing Lashell with his cooking skills, the night is sealed with a kiss on the balcony.
"It was the best date I've ever had in my entire life," Lashell tells Stanger afterward.
The rest is history.
“Ever since we’ve been together it’s been ridiculous,” said Berger, eight months after they met on the show. “On every single subject, almost all day, every day, we’re on the exact same page -- and it happened off of the 'Millionaire Matchmaker.'”
Things moved fast. Lashell gave up her modeling career in L.A., and moved to Vancouver to live with Berger not long after the show. He proposed under an altar surrounded by rose petals and candles just before Christmas, and the couple are currently busy planning their July 13 wedding on a Vancouver beach.
“Some people might have certain opinions about being on a show like that, but if you know me and you know Bambi, you know we do things just a little bit differently than most people,” Berger said. “We plan on getting pregnant on the honeymoon. We both want kids right away.”
Berger got his swimsuit model future wife. Lashell got her millionaire. While many TV relationships fade before the tape hits the edit bays, this relationship is a match made in "Millionaire Matchmaker" heaven.