05/08/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT
MAKE IT SOMETHING STRAIGHT and make it something sassy, 'cause I'm a carefree kind of gal," Arthel Neville had told Amsale Aberra, the Manhattan designer of her wedding dress. Spoken like a true native of the Big Easy. The 32-year-old cohost of the TV gossip-show Extra stayed faithful to her hometown's laid-back spirit on the afternoon of April 22, when she wed Derrick Lassie, 25, a former Dallas Cowboys running back now with the Carolina Panthers.
"For 'borrowed,' Mom wanted me to tuck one of my cousin Ernestine's handkerchiefs into my bra!" she joked as she slipped into her sequined tulle-and-lace gown at her mother Doris's home in New Orleans East. Just after 2 p.m., Arthel and her father, Art Neville, keyboardist for the Neville Brothers band, arrived at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in a white Rolls-Royce. "My daddy gave me a nice father-daughter talk in the car," she said. "I'm cool. We're cool."
Before the ceremony, Arthel's uncle Aaron Neville, he of the distinctive, warbling falsetto, serenaded the couple—and 300 guests—with "My Precious Star," from an upcoming album. After the vows he sang "Ave Maria."
But at the reception in suburban Metairie, Arthel was the star. Her show-stopper was the second-lining—a traditional New Orleans dance procession. As she twirled her second-lining parasol—which Doris had spent four days embroidering with some 4,000 purple and white glass beads—the groom tried gamely to keep up. In the cheering audience: his former Dallas teammates Ron Stone and Tony Richardson; Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes, who has been a longtime mentor to Arthel; and actor John Goodman. "I don't quite have this New Orleans beat down yet," Lassie conceded. "It's pretty tricky."
Lassie has been working to match Neville's pace ever since they met in February 1994 at the Miss USA Pageant in South Padre Island, Texas. She was a cohost, he a judge. Neville thought he was "very, very cute." Taking up a friend's $10 dare, she introduced herself. Intrigued, Lassie invited her to a friend's hotel suite—where she wolfed down a sandwich with a haste that stunned Lassie. "Well," Neville explained, "I was starving!"
Visiting her daughter in Texas, Arthel's mother liked Lassie so much she invited him home for Mardi Gras. He accepted—but arranged to have a friend call him with an urgent message to return home, just in case the week turned out to be a dud. The call wasn't necessary. The next week the couple flew to Alabama to meet his family. In June they were dining out when Lassie presented Neville with a special dessert: a platter bearing a 3.7-carat, marquise-diamond engagement ring. "It was just time," he says, "and she's the one. She's exactly the kind of woman I want to marry and have raise my children."
After spending just three nights at the four-star Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans, Neville flew back to L.A., and Lassie headed to minicamp with the Panthers in Rock Hill, S.C. Theirs will be a commuter marriage, split between their three-bedroom apartment in Toluca Lake, Calif., just north of Los Angeles, and the home they plan to buy in Charlotte, N.C. "We look at it as a sacrifice we'll have to make for a short time," says Neville, "for a lifetime of happiness."
KAREN BRAILSFORD in Toluca Lake and RON RIDENHOUR in New Orleans