After crossing paths here and there over the years, she finally became single and he took her on what he thought was a great first date in New Orleans, but the True Blood star wasn't sure if she was looking for another relationship so quickly. So he played what he thought was his trump card.
He told her, "'Look, you might need to be single, and I understand that,'" Manganiello recalled July 1 on SiriusXM's The Jess Cagle Show, talking about the early stages of courting his future wife in 2014. "'Now I can't promise you I'm gonna be there at the end of your self-discovery process. But like, if you need to be single, I'll understand. I'll deal with it, life will go on.'"
Then he said, "'But before you make your answer, hold on.' And I reached into my bag," the actor continued, "and I pulled out the People magazine with me as the 'Number One Bachelor in the World.' And I put it down on the table and I said, 'Numero Uno.'"
He may be lucky there was a second date.
"I slid it across the table to her," Manganiello said. "And she picked up the magazine, she started flipping through it and I said, 'You're skipping my interview. That's my article.' She said, 'Yeah, I wanna see who else is on the list.'"
Though of course Vergara, who's celebrating her 50th birthday July 10, has her side of the story, too.
"He smelled me and he couldn't help himself," Vergara quipped on Good Morning America shortly after they started dating. "That's all you need, if you want Joe."
Indeed, Manganiello told People not long before their first date, "I'm big into smell. It's funny I got cast as a werewolf. There's something about the smell on that part of a woman's neck where it meets the jaw, ahhhh! It's heaven."
But you could almost mistake these two sexy moths, mutually compelled by each other's flames, for normal people in the beginning...
"We're having a lot of fun," Vergara told E! News after word got out that they were seeing each other. "He's a really funny guy, which is something really important for me, and a very nice guy."
Meanwhile, the 6-foot-5 Manganiello was already down for the count.
"I knew right away," he assured Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show in 2018, asked when he knew Vergara was the one.
He was traveling for work when he found out Vergara was single, so he got her number from her co-star Jesse Tyler Ferguson and flew out to New Orleans to take her on their first date, which took place on June 15, 2014, a date they celebrate every year. "Our first date was her giving me every reason why it would never work out," Manganiello recalled to Haute Living. "Like, 'You're too young, you're an actor, you're this, you're that,' and she was just doing it to hear herself say it. She was trying to talk herself out of going there."
Understandably, Vergara was indeed being cautious. The mother of a then 22-year-old son, Manolo, had ended her engagement to Nick Loeb just a few months prior (though it sounded, from her explanation of what happened, that they'd been having problems for awhile—and they would go on to have more problems). And Manganiello, for all his cover-of-People's-"Hottest Bachelors"-issue, playing-Big-Dick-Richie-in-Magic Mike-brand of public hunkiness, had been leading a pretty low-key private life for such a noticeable guy.
But when Vergara deftly fielded his "numero uno" not-so-humble-brag and threw it right back at him, that was that.
Shared sense of humor, check.
Incidentally, Manganiello had told People, before he started dating Vergara, that she was his celebrity crush, a tidbit that was included in his "Hottest Bachelor" profile. "She was laughing at me," he told Ryan Seacrest on KIIS-FM later. "She thought that I was crazy for having said that out loud or said it in the magazine, but you know, I guess it worked."
Once he knew they were going somewhere, he didn't waste any time. They moved in together that November and he proposed on Christmas Eve 2014 in Hawaii.
"I had to do it indoors because the island was infested with paparazzi," Manganiello, who before dating Vergara hadn't been used to people caring that much about what he was up to, told Haute Living. "There were paparazzi waiting for us at the airport and on the grounds at the resort at the St. Regis in Kauai. I wanted to do it on the beach but I couldn't; I had to do it inside—which was fine. We had this big bay window, and the sun was going down pink over the mountains and over the bay, and I had this ring. I had looked at every ring in the world, and this is the ring that I wanted.
"I had a whole speech prepared in Spanish. I proposed to her on one knee in Spanish with the sun going down. It was awesome."
He continued, "We really get along well together. Because there is a persona that people see, I think she had preconceived notions about me. I didn't know what to expect of her when we first got together either, but the beauty of it was that we save all of this stuff for our personal lives. Our friends really know who we are and it's not necessarily that person that you see walking down the street or yelling at the paparazzi, 'F-- off—I'm trying to get engaged here!'"
A source told E! News after the couple got engaged, "I've never seen two people so truly in love. The way they talk to each other, touch each other. It's incredible."
It was incredible all right, and almost seemed too good to be true. But sometimes things are just good and true, full stop.
"I told him when I met him that he was too handsome, but now I'm very grateful that I did [go] out with him," Vergara said with a huge smile during a September 2015 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, showing off her massive engagement ring.
With the wedding just a few months away, they were in the middle of planning, still trying to keep it "a little private" for their 400 guests, including fellow stars of Modern Family and True Blood. "We said 200 for you, 200 for me, but my 200 is like family...the truth is that he gave me some of his," Vergara said.
Does Joe speak Spanish, elaborate proposal speech aside? "No, he doesn't, thank God," she told Kimmel with a laugh. "Oh, you know, sometimes it's good to have secrets."
Manganiello got to turn the teasing tables on Vergara when she was on the cover of Martha Stewart Weddings, with the headline "Sofia in Love."
"He was making fun of me," she told Seacrest on the red carpet at the 2015 Emmys. "He wanted to see what I had to say. He's like, 'Give me that magazine I have to see if you're talking good about me.'"
What Vergara did tell the magazine was this: "I want a wedding where the guests are going to have fun…It's about creating memories that you're always going to cherish. That's what's important."
On GMA, she said her husband-to-be was being most amiable with the planning. "He's a pleasure to be doing this with. He lets me do whatever I want," she said. "I show him options that of course I already want and I'm happy with, so whatever he's going to pick I already like."
He acknowledged as much to Haute Living, saying, "As long as she's happy with it, I'm happy. I'm not the kind of guy that's like, 'I need this kind of tablecloth.' We're very traditional male-female in that way. [I'll be like] what do you need me to do? I'll call the DJ."
Cue a full-on destination wedding weekend for family and friends in Palm Beach, Fla., which included a rehearsal dinner the night before the I-dos at Café Boulud and passing out "#Jofía" t-shirts for the wedding party.
Manganiello and Vergara tied the knot Nov. 21, 2015, at The Breakers resort, the bride in custom Zuhair Murad (and, presumably, her Joe-approved Sofía fragrance, a mix of vanilla, sandalwood and coffee flower) and the groom wearing a John Varvatos tuxedo.
The altruistic couple asked that guests donate to St. Jude's Children's Hospital and Children's Hospital Pittsburgh in lieu of sending gifts, which couldn't help but add an extra special touch overall to the Mindy Weiss-planned festivities.
The newlyweds private-jetted off to Parrot Cay on Turks and Caicos for their honeymoon, where private villas start at $5,200 a night and they had the biggest private pool the resort had to offer.
It was back to real life upon their return, but the fun continued—in fact, it was a must.
Chatting with Harry Connick Jr. on Harry in September 2016, Vergara said that of course all marriages take work, "but it shouldn't be, like, work." As for physical work? "I make him sometimes make me eggs in the morning. He makes them really good." Neither one of them really cook, though, she divulged, so if left to herself she'd be making nothing but simple stuff like avocado toast.
But need for takeout aside, Vergara and Manganiello were bringing other important things to the table.
A year in, Manganiello told Hola! USA, "We realized very early on that we each had to put the other person's happiness and well-being ahead of our own. Once you realize that kind of trust has manifested, you hang on for dear life."
For their first anniversary, he didn't just give her a card—he wrote her a whole darn book. "It was about how we met, as well as our courting, and was about 40 pages long," he explained to Cosmo UK. "I love my wife a lot."
Meanwhile, there had been some concern about Joe after the couple slipped out of the spotlight for awhile following their nuptials.
"Sofia and Joe are still very much in love and their relationship couldn't be better," a source told E! News in June 2016. "Sofia has really been there for Joe during some difficult times."
Moreover, "Sofia is such a caregiver and loves Joe like crazy. She would do anything for him."
So just because Vergara wasn't always into dishing the sudsiest details about her love affair, preferring to stick to her story about he was almost too hot to go out with ("I'm too old now to be dealing with a guy that all the girls are, like, after him," she re-told her tale on Harry), that by no means meant she wasn't appreciating his inner beauty even more.
"I'm very lucky. I was so lucky. I must have done something really, really right in my life to get that reward," she gushed to Ellen DeGeneres ahead of their second anniversary. "I'm good, but not a very, very good person. I'm good, but he's better than me."
A couple years later, they were the old married couple in the Hulu commercials.
In 2018 they made a movie together for the first time, the sports-meets-redemption drama Bottom of the 9th—a big decision for both because, as Manganiello, who also served as a producer, put it, "You don't want to put your relationship up on the public chopping block that way."
But he had read the script, about a onetime aspiring baseball player who's released from prison after 17 years and tries to restart his life, before he even started dating Vergara—and when she read it, she cried.
"A couple of years into our relationship, she was complaining about her agents at the time not finding any good parts for her, any good roles and we didn't want to work together," he shared. "She opened it up and read it and I came back about half an hour later and she had tears in her eyes and said the script is 'amazing' and 'I have to do it.' And I said, 'OK, we'll figure it out.'"
Let's just say, both were glad they changed their minds.
"We got together and decided we didn't want to work together," Manganiello told Screen Rant in September 2019. "There had been so many vanity projects by couples... And we didn't want to do that. We didn't want to be accused of cashing in on our relationship." But, he continued, "I knew that she would be great for the part, and I thought the two of us would be great together, so I asked her to take a look at it, and if she responded to it, we could have a conversation. And she did respond to it."
Making the movie last year, "we shared a hotel room in New York, which was such an amazing experience for us," Manganiello said. "Through the whole shoot, the two of us lived in this hotel room. She was in the other room, reading a book, and I was in the other room writing that scene for us. I knocked on the door, I came in, and we sat on chairs in the bedroom and we read the scene together. I thought, okay, that's it, it's going to work. We came in, later that week, and we filmed the scene together, and it was magical."
Before Bottom of the 9th came out in July 2019, they went to Italy to celebrate her birthday, "going crazy, eating like animals," Vergara fondly remembered on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, and then they embarked on their first joint promotional tour.
And in 2019, Joe went along for the lights and romance while Modern Family filmed its 11th and final season Paris.
That being said, they don't do everything together.
For instance, when Eddie Bauer sent Manganiello to Iceland in 2017 to athletically conquer every surface—rock, water, lava, ice, etc.—Vergara sat that one out.
"We're very much opposites attracting," Joe told Fallon. "You know, like if I want to talk about animal skulls or mountain biking and lava fields or whatever, she'll say things to me like, 'How about I go in my closet and I bring back a tray of my earrings, and I talk to you about them for the next half an hour.'"
Vergara doesn't do sports, either, though she accepts her Pittsburgh native hubby's obsession with all things Steelers ("he's like a sick person," she once quipped on The Tonight Show), and understands that his mood rises and falls with his hometown team's fortunes.
Asked if she watched football with him, she said on Jimmy Kimmel Live in September 2018, noting that the season hadn't been going so great, "I try to stay away at those hard times." And "when they're playing and I'm out, I check on the Instagram or the Twitter to see what happens so I'm prepared to arrive, to what I'm arriving [at], you know."
"It's to the point where my wife will say things to me like, 'The Steelers aren't a designer fashion label,'" Manganiello told AOL Entertainment. "But now my comeback is, 'Yes they are!' I come from a city and culture where people wear Steeler jerseys to weddings. It's frowned upon, but acceptable. The NFL has really stepped up their game and has made some great designs with great fabrics for everyday wear. I can now wear it every day and always have something new to wear."
For the record, Vergara maintains that "Steelers" is not a designer label.
She has been to Steelers games, however, where she enjoys the hotdogs and the people, which include some of the players and team owners, all of whom treat Joe like the member of the family that he is. Jimmy asked Sofia if she knew what was happening on the field.
"No, I don't," Vergara acknowledged. "And I don't really care. I care because that means my week is going to be good or bad, but that's all I really care. I refuse to watch it on TV."
That's OK, he'll sneak a Steelers pen into her bag or swap out her coffee-to-go into a Steelers thermal mug. Vergara even has a nail file sporting the Steelers logo. "Better that he's addicted to that than something else," she added on The Tonight Show. "He's at home with his whole outfit, not gambling somewhere in Vegas with strippers. I shouldn't complain, right?"
But apparently Manganiello doesn't mind that Vergara hasn't adopted his football habit as her own.
"He always, actually, tells me, he's like, 'You know, one of the things that draws me so much to you is that you were, like, the first woman I went out with that is really, really, like, independent,'" she shared with ET in 2017. And Joe appreciates that she has her own pursuits.
"He loves it. He supports me in everything," Vergara said. "I think he realizes how important it is for us to have opportunities, for women to have our own thing going."
Especially if dressing up in head-to-toe Steelers gear or playing Dungeons & Dragons is not her thing, the way, say, getting dressed up for the Vanity Fair Oscar Party is. That's right, Manganiello is a hard-core fan and, in case you couldn't tell from his social media accounts, an official D&D consultant.
"All my friends play. All these huge directors, comedians, actors? We all play," he wrote in an op-ed for NBC News. "My trainer of the past eight years, who is a CrossFit champion—6'2, 245 pounds of solid muscle—is the most hardcore encyclopedia of fantasy novel information you'll ever find."
The actor continued, "I now work as a consultant for Dungeons & Dragons, which is the job that I wanted as a kid, and, as a result of that relationship, I wrote some material for their adventure module that will get released next year. Plus, the game is how I got cast in my latest movie, Rampage." He bonded over D&D with the film's director, Brad Peyton, who's interested in making a D&D movie and Peyton mentioned he still needed to cast a role in his ape-run-amok blockbuster that also starred Dwayne Johnson.
However, Vergara can hang at Comic-Con, and she accompanied fan-favorite Manganiello there in 2018, after which they made their first trip to her native Colombia together. They shared the summer fun with one of their favorite double-date-night couples, Ferguson and Justin Mikita, who were celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary at the time.
The America's Got Talent judge was also on hand to shower her man with support when he was honored with the Spirit of Sobriety Award at the Brent Shapiro Foundation for Drug Prevention's 13th annual Summer Spectacular Event in September 2018.
"Sixteen years ago…I crashed and washed ashore on the banks of sobriety," the introspective actor told the audience at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. "When I was growing up, when I thought of an alcoholic, I thought of some toothless old guy in a trench coat in a basement somewhere. I just never thought that would apply to me. That type of stigma kept me from getting the help that I needed when I knew I needed it."
After the event, Manganiello wrote on Instagram, "Thank you to Robert Shapiro and everyone at the #brentshapirofoundationfor this honor and thank you to my beautiful date..."
And he appreciates to no end how much Vergara has been there for him.
"The biggest adjustment in marriage? Coming to grips with the idea that someone who is not related to you could possibly love you that much," he told Cigar Aficionado in 2018. "She was it for me.
"People say things like, 'Marriage and relationships are work.' But it's not. Life is hard. Having somebody to help you deal with it is the greatest thing that ever happened."
(Originally published Nov. 22, 2018, at 3 a.m. PT)