Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder should know by now that the NFL spotlight shines on almost everything a player does.
As his roller-coaster second pro season winds down with less-than-stellar personal statistics, Ponder mistakenly figured it would not become public if he slipped away to Hudson, Wis., with ESPN reporter Samantha Steele for a private marriage ceremony on Monday, Dec. 17.
"We were hoping not," Ponder said at the Vikings' Winter Park headquarters on Wednesday. "That wasn't the plan."
Public records came to light within 36 hours, however, forcing Ponder to deal with questions, crack jokes and downplay any possible impact of his decision to marry just six days before a game against the Houston Texans that he earlier referred to as "probably the biggest game of my career."
Despite passing for fewer than 100 yards in three games this season and ranking 25th in the NFL in passer rating, Ponder has maintained his confidence and an upbeat attitude while helping lead Minnesota into playoff contention with an 8-6 record going into Sunday's game in Houston. In October, he deflected the stir when it came to light that he and Steele were dating, and on Wednesday he insisted his marriage will not affect his play.
Getting married did not prevent him from going to Winter Park both Monday and Tuesday for film work, as he always does.
"Obviously, it's a big deal," Ponder said, "but it wasn't a distraction at all."
Ponder, 24, and Steele, 27, were married in the St. Croix County Courthouse, choosing to drive across the border because "we were hoping it would limit the attention on us," he said. It was a private ceremony with no teammates or family members involved.
"Just us," Ponder said.
"We tried to keep the attention away from us and just went over to Wisconsin and had it done," he said. "So it was quick, but it was good."
Ponder said some people in Minnesota might not be pleased he sneaked into another state for his wedding, but so be it.
"We're going to have a big ceremony sometime in the offseason and be able to enjoy it," he said," and hopefully some people from Minnesota will be able to be down there."
Ponder is from Colleyville, Texas, and Steele is from Arizona, but the quarterback did not say where or when the public ceremony would take place.
Someone wanted to know if he is taking his wife's name and now will be known as Christian Steele.
"That would have been good," Ponder said. "Like a pro wrestler."
Steele also exhibited a sense of humor. After posts on Twitter wondered if she might be pregnant, she tweeted via @Samantha_Steele: "All reports of a babybump are false and offensive. All reports of a foodbump are true and offensive :)"
Ponder was asked why, with only two games remaining in the regular season, he and Steele chose this week to get married.
"It was important to us to get it done before the holidays," he said. "A lot of personal reasons went into it."
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said he knew Ponder's wedding was "on the radar."
"Happy for him," Frazier added. "He's a young man; I'm sure he put a lot of thought in it, consulted with the right people. So, happy for him."
Ponder, who has a quarterback rating of 78.6 and ranks 26th in the NFL in passing yardage, reiterated that his marriage won't be a distraction to him or his teammates.
Agreed, said punter Chris Kluwe, whose personal life regularly veers away from football-related topics.
"We have lives away from the football field," Kluwe said, "and I think I've been kind of the example of that. Football is what we do for our job, but that doesn't define us as human beings. We fall in love, get married, have kids, same as everyone else."
Kluwe said Ponder has put in the work all season to perform his best, and that won't change.
"It's the NFL," Kluwe said. "We all go out there and try to do our best every single time."
Vikings safety Harrison Smith didn't find out about the wedding until Wednesday morning. He said, "If that's what he wanted to do, that's great for him. I wish him the best. Congrats to him."
It was five minutes into Ponder's weekly meeting with the media before the elephant in the room was mentioned, and the first follow-up question asked how he compares getting married to getting drafted in the first round by the Vikings in 2011.
"Tough question," he said with a smile. "I liked being drafted No. 1. We'll see how this marriage thing goes."
As the laughter died down, Ponder wondered aloud: "Is this on film? Is this on camera? Good."
He, too, was laughing, fully aware that not much can happen to a pro football player without it being noticed.