This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on March 1, 2013.
Bryan Pope spends his workdays marketing games like “Farmville” and “Words With Friends,” but even outside the office, there’s very little the Zynga employee can’t turn into a game. He’s added competitions or surprises to Super Bowl parties, visits from out-of-town family and even his own wedding.
All eyes were on Bryan, 31, and Sharon Howell, 28, when they said “I do” at their recent wedding in Mexico. No one wanted to miss a single detail – or risk losing the Wedding Betting game.
At the rehearsal dinner, guests made guesses on 18 wedding or reception-related questions, such as “Who will have the worst sunburn or best tan line walking down the aisle?” “Who will make the longest toast?” “Will the bride and groom smash cake in each other’s faces?” And the one with the longest odds: “Will the 1-year-old flower girl make it down the aisle on her own?” (She did.)
The person with the most correct guesses – Sharon’s 14-year-old nephew – took home the (candy) jackpot.
Sharon and Bryan invented Wedding Betting while attending friends’ nuptials, and by the time they tied the knot, it had become a tradition. But this couple’s fun and games started more than five years before anyone was placing bets.
In the fall of 2007, Bryan moved from New York to San Francisco to take a job in public relations. His new desk put him face-to-face with Sharon. We “basically just stared at each other’s faces all day long,” the couple wrote on their wedding website.
They often went out for drinks or bar trivia with co-workers and joked with each other at the office. Sharon recalls stealing a Statue of Liberty figurine from Bryan’s desk and encasing it in lime Jell-O. Bryan remembers stammering and blushing the time they carpooled to the California Department of Motor Vehicles and the clerk mistook Sharon for his wife.
By that year’s company Christmas party, it seemed the DMV clerk might have been on to something. It was a dinner for employees only, no guests. Bryan and Sharon shared a taxi – and their first kiss – on the way home.
For the next four years, they dated, transitioned into jobs at separate companies and explored the Bay Area, a place they both came to only months before meeting. They spent a New Year’s Eve in Monterey, biked across the Golden Gate Bridge and camped in Marin County. (Bryan, who did not grow up camping in New York’s concrete jungle, mistook a local bird for a pigeon and threw a water bottle to make the nuisance go away.)
In February 2012, in celebration of their fourth anniversary, they took a weekend trip to Half Moon Bay. Bryan suggested a sunrise walk on the beach, which Sharon thought was very uncharacteristic. “Hey, if you wake up for it, I’m in,” she remembered saying.
Bryan did wake up, and Sharon used the walk as an excuse to play with her new camera, setting it up to capture the waves and the beach sunrise on video. The moment it actually captured on film was far more touching, as YouTube viewers can see. Bryan nervously took the ring from his pocket, pulled Sharon in close and dropped to one knee.
“I don’t even remember what we said to each other in that moment,” Sharon said. “Tears welled up in my eyes. There was lots of giggling, jumping and hugging.”
They called their friends and family members right from the beach to share the news, but they didn’t have much time to linger in Half Moon Bay. They had to hurry home to prepare for the Super Bowl party they were going to host the next day.
“I was a little stressed as we drove home,” Sharon admitted. “We had to vacuum and do a lot to get ready for the party.”
When they returned home, the stress turned to fear. The heat was on, and Sharon knew she had turned it off before they left. “I thought someone had broken in,” she said.
An instant later, someone jumped out from a dark corner. “I thought Sharon was going to have (a) seizure,” Bryan said.
But the intruder was not a surprise to him. He had arranged for Sharon’s sister, Katie, and her boyfriend, to visit from Santa Barbara so they could join the celebration.
Katie, Sharon’s maid of honor, had ordered dinner and helped clean and decorate for the party, which became a Super Engagement Party. Guests watched not only the big game but also the engagement video, which Sharon admitted was “a happy accident.”
The wedding planning began soon afterward, and it included some steps that aren’t on the typical bride and groom’s checklist. The couple registered the domain “sharonandbryan.com” and created a logo based on a photograph of the two of them jumping in the air.
“This is what happens when two marketers get married,” Bryan said.
Guests got their first taste of the wedding games to come when they received invitations in the form of Mad Libs. To RSVP, they had to fill out postcards with nouns, verbs and adjectives of their choosing. Or, as one pair of guests wrote: “When Sharon and Bryan boogie down the beach, we will be there to party. We will inhale two steak entrees. When this invitation arrived, we jumped with joy. We wish them a lifetime of holding hands and gazing lovingly at each other.”