Okoye, Christian “The Nigerian Nightmare”

Cards: ProSet 1990 PB, ProSet 1990 LL, Score 1990 HC, Score 1990 GF, Action Packed 1992
Acquired: In Person 2011, Okoye Youth Sports Clinic
Failure: TTM 2010, C/o The Okoye Foundation

The last time I attempted to get Christian’s autograph was in February of 2010. He’d be the first RTS I’d notch on my way back into the collecting field. I really wanted to get his Pro Set 1990 LL card, Score 1990 Hot Card, and his Score 1990 Ground Force cards signed. I put the cards back into my box and forgot about them. I recently decided to do some volunteer work since this job market has been so frustrating. After doing a bit of research I recalled that Christian had a youth skills camp that he runs in Rancho Cucamonga- which is literally down the road from Pasadena. I shot his foundation off an email and asked them how I could volunteer and I received a fairly prompt response and soon I was in contact with Christian himself- which felt really odd- since he was an amazing runningback for the Chiefs back in the late 80s and early 90s.

I worked at the youth skills camp on June 19th and was able to grab his autographs on these cards after doing a lot of just different general things to help out. I was basically a jack of all trades, taking photos, helping with set up, and providing Christian a marker to autograph kids shirts with. I was amazed at how many kids didn’t know who he was or that he played professional football. When I broke it to them who he was they reacted with surprised glee. The whole process was very rewarding for me as I met a couple of players and shot the breeze with Chris Hale, Ricky Ellis, and Derrick Harvey (RB San Diego St) about a variety of things from the Houston Oilers being a horrible organization to player benefits pre 1990. There’s just this worthwhile feeling I got from watching these kids learn from professional players drills, secrets of the game, and general words of encouragement.  It was also nice feeling helpful and useful, but it was odd to have Christian ask me for my phone number so we could brainstorm some things for him in the future.

Christian Okoye was born in Nigeria where he came to the United States to run track at Azusa Pacific. Initially, he really didn’t care for American football, but when his nation refused to accept him for the Nigerian Olympic team, he channeled that frustration into pummeling opponents on the gridiron. Okoye was a surprising combination of power and speed, reminiscent of powerback Earl Campbell, and would be drafted in the 2nd round of the 1987 draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. (Brent Fullwood, DJ Dozier, Roger Vick, Paul Palmer, Kenny Flowers and Terrance Flagler would all come off the board before Okoye’s name was called.)

Okoye would have a subpar rookie season in 1987, rushing for 660 yards. In 1988, despite injuries, he’d pull in another 473.  With the hiring of Marty Schottenheimer in 1989, Okoye would explode out of the gates, leading the NFL in rushing and narrowly beating out rookie Barry Sanders for the NFL rushing title with 1480 yards. He would also lead the NFL in carries with 370, and be named to the ProBowl and All Pro after the season. 1990 would see Christian again limited by injuries rushing for 805 yards, but he’d rebound in 1992 with 1031 yards and another ProBowl nod. In his final season in 1993 Okoye would be limited to primarily goal line situations, and retire after the season after 6 seasons as the franchise’s all time leading rusher (since surpassed).

When I met Christian I mentioned Tecmo Super Bowl to him, he told me that he was aware of the game. I explained to him that in the game that he was virtually unstoppable and  he just tossed players aside on the field like rag dolls, which he found to be pretty funny. Blessed with good speed and tied for the highest hitting power in the game at a whopping 94, you just had to select Okoye plays on defense to keep him from scoring. He was truly a Tecmo Super Bowl legend.

Since retirement Okoye has retired to the Rancho Cucamonga area. He is the president of the California Sports Hall of Fame, runs the Christian Okoye Foundation and also is very active on the NFL Alumni circuit. He also remains one of the most popular and requested Chiefs for public speaking and appearances.

G/Gs 79/65     Att 1246        Yds 4897        Avg  3.9          Td  40        Lg  59   |
Rec 42       Yds 294      Avg  7.0       Td 0      Lg  22

Here are the photos from the 2011 Okoye Youth Skills day I was at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wleebolton