Dennis Harrah Never Gets Called for Offensive Holding When He Tackles Jenilee Harrison
Here's a new one: A blond, blue-eyed cheerleader-turned-TV-actress falls for a big, ruggedly handsome, country-bumpkin-with-a-heart-of-gold pro football star. Bet you haven't heard of a Hollywood matchup like that for at least, oh, five minutes. Okay, so maybe as clichés go, that one has some mileage on it. But to get along with this beautiful girl—Dallas' Jenilee Harrison—it pays to be a football hero. Before sacking L.A. Rams guard Dennis Harrah, 31, a year ago, she was involved for four years with former Rams defensive back Jeff Severson. "I know it sounds corny, but I am attracted to athletes," says Harrison, 25, who joined Dallas this season as cousin Jamie Ewing. "I'm an outdoorsy, athletic girl and I like wind surfing and volleyball on the beach much more than wining and dining in Beverly Hills."
Harrah insists that Jenilee's knowledge of the sport is highly overrated. "She thinks she knows a lot about football, but she doesn't really," says the 6'5", 275-pound Harrah, one of the three team captains, now in his 10th year. "She goes to the games and sits with the players' wives who also think they know something about the game, but they just gossip." Ouch! Penalize this guy 15 yards for illegal use of the mouth.
They met six years ago, when she was a Rams cheerleader, and saw each other at Legends, a Belmont Shores saloon that Harrah built in 1979. They began dating last year, after Harrison had ended her relationship with Severson, and Harrah had split with a stewardess. When a girlfriend of Jenilee's told Harrah that Harrison wanted to go out with him, he invited both women to dinner. Dennis and Jenilee have been inseparable ever since.
Harrah quickly pinpointed Harrison's appeal. "She was the first person I've ever gone out with who can afford a Rolex," he jokes. More important, "She lets me be Denny 80 percent of the time." The other 20 percent, he says, "is like every woman who wants that control, who wants you to be what she wants." And what does she want him to be? Neater, for one thing, and to stop leaving those wet towels scattered all around their two-bedroom Naples, Calif, apartment. (Jenilee also has a one-bedroom apartment nearby.) He leaves the household chores to her by pleading soreness from the previous Sunday's pounding. "She is constantly on me about being lazy," admits Dennis. On the other hand, he complains that "she is not the best person in the kitchen I've ever met." (Her specialty is Tuna Helper.)
Petty annoyances aside, the pair does share some interests. Their greatest passions are for the outdoors and their families. "Whenever he has extra money lying around, he'll spend it on his family," Jenilee says. "We'll sit around, laughing, because here we are making more than a half-million dollars a year, and we're in a little two-bedroom apartment while we're buying our moms houses and cars. But Dennis and I, we don't care what we own. Material things don't mean anything." Oh, maybe a little something—she's just splurged on a Mercedes-Benz 500 SEL, he drives a 1983 silver customized Chevy van fitted with TV.
Each tries hard not to bring work pressures home, a problem that Harrison concedes led to the demise of her romance with Severson. "We do our jobs the best we can and then leave them," says Harrah, who proudly adds that Jenilee "handles her career beautifully." In their free time they prefer to "eat and sleep," go biking or hang out at Legends. "I like to sit on the bar stool and lift a couple of suds," Dennis says with a hint of understatement. "We definitely do not agree on my beverage consumption."
To escape the city Harrah and Harrison often head to Jenilee's cabin hideaway in the San Joaquin Valley, 150 miles north of L.A. "When the pressure really gets to be too much," says Jenilee, "Dennis always says, The airport is only five minutes away.' " He's not telling her to get lost, he's only suggesting they head to his hometown of Charleston, W.Va., where his parents (a factory worker and a housewife) and an older sister live.
Harrah's family was too poor to send him to college, so he parlayed his football skills into a scholarship to the University of Miami where, as a senior, he was Ail-American. He graduated in 1975 with a degree in business management and was the Rams' No. 1 draft choice that year. Popular with his teammates (they call him "Here," as in "the labors of..."), he has just signed a reported four-year $1 million contract. Dennis' family has already taken a shine to Jenilee, who has visited twice. "She made herself right at home," reports Dennis' mom, Jerry. "She doesn't put on."
Jenilee grew up in Northridge in the San Fernando Valley. Her father is an aerospace engineer and her mother a math teacher. They divorced when she was 15. Jenilee paid her way through USC by doing commercials (she graduated in 1980 with an education degree), which she landed after winning beauty contests "like the Miss San Fernando Valley, Miss Los Angeles, Miss Hollywood, Miss Everything," she reports. But her biggest thrill was winning the title of Sweetheart of Sigma Chi in her senior year at USC. " That was one of the highlights of my life," gushes Jenilee. "That's like getting homecoming queen." And everybody knows how thrilling that is.
She was chosen for the Rams' Embraceable Ewes cheerleading squad in 1978 ("It seemed a way to get into Hollywood") and made commercials until she went on Three's Company after Suzanne Somers left in 1980. Harrison stayed with the show two and a half years. On Dallas, she now hauls in a reported $15,000 a week, which she invests in real estate.
They occasionally talk of marriage. "I guess I'm slow because I believe in marriage totally and don't want any mistakes," says Dennis. Jenilee isn't bothered by the groupies who are staples of their glamorous professions. "Dennis is a very loyal guy," she says. "If I lose a man to another woman it would be because I let it happen."
When you get right down to it, the thing Harrison likes most about her football fella is that he's just a great big softie. "This is a bad way to put it, but he is like a female in many ways," Jenilee says. "Here is this big hunk of a man, yet he is extremely sensitive. And he cries a lot. He'll cry seeing an old man and lady walking down the street, and say, 'Look at that love.' "
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