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Image: Brooklyn Decker
Brooklyn Decker didn’t know she made the cover of Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue until the day before it came out.
TODAY contributor
updated 2/9/2010 8:59:44 AM ET 2010-02-09T13:59:44

When you’re a model, it doesn’t get any better than getting on the cover of the most-viewed magazine in America. And this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition cover girl isn’t one of those people who get so excited at good fortune they can’t find the words to describe it.

“I feel like the New Orleans Saints did Sunday night,” Brooklyn Decker told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira and Al Roker Tuesday in New York. “It’s the equivalent of a model winning the MVP of the Super Bowl.”

A big sports fan and the wife of American tennis star Andy Roddick, the 22-year-old Decker has been trying to crack the S.I. cover for five straight years now. It’s a huge deal to make the cover, a stage that turns a model into a superstar.

As for her husband, Decker said, “I think he basically takes the reins in the locker room for the next year or so. He has good bragging rights. He’s very proud.”

Beyond that, she said, is the career opportunity for her.

“He knows it’s a gold mine, and to see me succeed and to see each other succeed is really exciting,” she said of Roddick.

A person, not just a body
The reason the exposure is so great is because Sports Illustrated treats its models as people, introducing them and their personalities to the readers.

“It’s so good, because Sports Illustrated is [good] about putting a face with a name of the girl,” Decker explained. “It has your name on the cover, and no other magazine will do that. It’s wonderful.”

And making the cover isn’t easy. The magazine’s editors do not pick the cover girl in advance. Instead, they sort through nearly 100,000 pictures of the world’s most gorgeous models wearing the most revealing swimwear — a grueling task, most men would agree — to find the one picture that conveys sun and water and glowing good health.

In recent years, the cover models adopted sultry poses, but Decker bursts off this year’s cover in the blaze of a megawatt smile and a little yellow bikini that she’s half wearing while standing thigh-deep in the Indian Ocean.

The bottom of the suit is where it should be, but the top is hanging off her right shoulder. Doing the work the top should be doing are her arms, which are crossed across her chest as she smiles at the camera as sweetly as a homecoming queen.

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Getting the big news
Decker did not learn she’d finally landed on the cover until Monday, when she went to what she thought was going to be a casting call.

“I was all gussied up to go, and I walk in and there’s all sorts of cameras and mics and everything and tons of blown-up pictures of myself all over,” Decker said.

Knowing that she’d finally won her Super Bowl, she totally lost it.

“I burst into tears like a child,” the blue-eyed blonde told Roker and Vieira.

“I feel like the New Orleans Saints did Sunday night,” Brooklyn Decker told the TODAY anchors of landing on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
Monday night, late-night viewers found out that she was on the cover during David Letterman’s monologue. After telling the audience to watch their monitors, Letterman ordered workers to drop a tarpaulin covering a huge billboard on 53rd Street and Broadway.

The tarp dropped to reveal a picture of newly elected Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown posing in the buff a number of years ago for Cosmo. But once that gag was milked, there was another unveiling — this time of the real Sports Illustrated cover declaring the tanned and smiling Decker, dressed in a smile and a yellow bikini, to be a “Perfect 10 in the Maldives.”

Harder than it looks
“I do not even remember taking that picture,” Decker confessed.

Image: Brooklyn Decker
Brooklyn Decker’s 2010 Sports Illustrated swimsuit photographs were shot in the Maldives, an island country in the Indian Ocean.

Photo shoots for the magazine are long and grueling affairs, with models getting up well before dawn and working until sunset. Usually, she said, the shots taken late in the day are the ones that make the cover — and those are the ones that she remembers most. But this picture was taken early on the second morning of the multiday shoot and she forgot it as soon as it was taken.

“That’s what’s nice about it,” Decker said. “It’s one of those natural, nice, organic moments.”

Shortly after the unveiling of her Broadway billboard, Decker tweeted her delight to her fans: “THANK YOU EVERYONE!!! I Wish I could respond to every single one of you but thank you so much for your AMAZINGLY sweet tweets!”

Born in Ohio and named for a New York City borough, Decker grew up in North Carolina. As a kid, she told The Associated Press, she ran hurdles for the track team, played soccer and participated in competitive cheerleading. An avid University of North Carolina Tarheels fan, she has no great diet or exercise secret, she said, other than to be active and eat sensibly.

Slideshow: Victoria’s Secret fashions ‘09 Decker did say, though, that because Sports Illustrated encourages a natural look — less makeup, toned muscles, a curvy shape — it’s easier to get a great photograph. “This celebrates the girls and their personalities. I think it’s why they get such beautiful pictures.”

State secret
This is Decker’s fifth straight year as a model in the swimsuit edition, so clearly, she had the right stuff to make the cover. It was just a matter of everything coming together.

Once the decision is made, it becomes a state secret until just before publication, with even the models kept in the dark. As the years have passed, the announcement of who made the cover has become a bigger production.

“I still don’t know the formula for the cover,” Decker said. “It’s luck, the perfect suit and perfect storm to get it.”

Sports Illustrated
Last year’s choice for the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue was Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli.
The perfect smile and the perfect hair and the perfect eyes and the perfect body also help.

But Decker was a star in her world by the time she was 18 and made her first appearance in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. Discovered in a mall in North Carolina, she’s been featured in Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, FHM and Glamour; done music videos with Jimmy Buffett; appeared on the TV show “Ugly Betty” and been a Victoria’s Secret model.

Love at first sight
Still, making the cover of the Swimsuit Edition boosts her into another category of fame. Sports Illustrated says that the swimsuit issue is seen by more than 65 million Americans, including 40 percent of the nation’s adult males.

Slideshow: Sports Illustrated swimsuit models 2010 (on this page) You would think that minimally clad supermodels would be enough of a sell by themselves, but the magazine takes no chances. All the models in this year’s swimsuit issue are headed to Las Vegas for a heavy weeklong schedule of publicity events, photo ops and autograph signings.

Cover shots have made superstars of many who have gone before her, from Cindy Crawford to Cheryl Tiegs to Kathy Ireland to Tyra Banks to Elle Macpherson to Heidi Klum.

Like millions of American men, tennis star Andy Roddick saw her picture and fell in love. Unlike millions of American men, Roddick, the top-ranked American male player, had the pull to track her down.

Roddick’s agent managed to get Decker’s number, and he called the 5-foot-9 beauty. They started dating in 2007, announced their engagement in 2008 and were married last April at Roddick’s home in Austin, Texas. He was 26; she was 21.

PEOPLE magazine reported that Roddick asked an English bloke he knew to sing at the wedding, and Elton John obliged.

The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Photos: Sports Illustrated swimsuit models 2010

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  1. Bar Refaeli

    The cover girl of last year's Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, Israel-born Refaeli is also known for her relationship with Leonardo DiCaprio. She was photographed in the Maldives by Walter Iooss Jr.; her swimsuit is by Luli Fama.

    More on Bar Refaeli

    See SI video (Walter Iooss, Jr / Sports Illustrated) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Damaris Lewis

    Brooklyn-born Lewis was photographed, propeller in hand, by Walter Chin in California's Mojave Desert. A dance major at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, she also appeared in last year's Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, as well as in ads for Yves Saint Laurent and Victoria's Secret. Her swimsuit is by Badgley Mischka.

    More on Damaris Lewis (Walter Chin / Sports Illustrated) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Sonia Dara

    Rajasthan, India, was the setting for this photo of Sonia Dara by Riccardo Tinelli, which is appropriate, because her parents immigrated to the U.S. from India in the early 1980s. The Elite model was accepted into Harvard in 2008. Her swimsuit is by CHIO by Stefania D.

    More on Sonia Dara (Riccardo Tinelli / Sports Illustrated) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Brooklyn Decker

    Born in Ohio, Decker later moved with her family to Charlotte, N.C., where she was discovered in a shopping mall. Along with modeling, she has appeared in music videos and TV shows such as "Ugly Betty." Photographed by Walter Iooss Jr in the Maldives, she sports a swimsuit by Delfina.

    More on Brooklyn Decker (Walter Iooss, Jr / Sports Illustrated) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Esti Ginzburg

    Born in Tel Aviv, Israel, Ginzburg started her modeling career early, in a milk ad at age 8. She has appeared on the cover of French ELLE and is set to make her film debut in the 2010 drama "Twelve." Photographed in Rajasthan, India, by by Riccardo Tinelli, she wears a swimsuit by Lisa Curran Swim.

    More on Esti Ginzburg (Riccardo Tinelli / Sports Illustrated) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Cover girl

    Brooklyn Decker graces the cover of the 2010 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue in a swimsuit by Delfina. In April 2009 she married tennis star Andy Roddick in a private ceremony in Austin, Texas, after a one-year engagement. Her cover photo was shot in the Maldives by Walter Iooss Jr.

    SWIMSUIT 2010 Home (Walter Iooss, Jr / Sports Illustrated) Back to slideshow navigation
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