‘It’s almost like we are family’
LARAMIE – Christopher John Bugher lived for traveling, the Denver Broncos and photography.
He loved to camp and fish. In his youth, weekends in the Big
Horn Mountains on the back of snowmobiles with his little brother were the
priority. He was even on drag racing pit crew, prepping sleds to zip through
the deep white powder.
Chris lived all over the Cowboy State – from Jackson to
Rawlins to Guernsey – but he always called Buffalo home.
Friday afternoon, he was laid to rest in his adopted
Fittingly, his ashes were placed in a forest green tackle box, decorated with white stickers of Steamboat, Jeff Lebowski, Darth Vader and a telescope, representing another one of his passions, astronomy.
Bugher died Sunday, Oct. 13 at his home in Sheridan. He was just 38.
Tyler Vander Waal got the news that night in the form of a text message.
“I’ve always been told life is about relationships,” Wyoming’s
sophomore quarterback said Monday afternoon. “I fortunately have a platform to
meet awesome people.”
Tyler didn’t really know Chris. They met briefly on the blue turf in Boise after the Idaho Potato Bowl in 2017.
What he did know is -- his friend was hurting.
Jeff Bugher, an avid Wyoming fan from Casper, is that friend.
As the team made their way to the stadium before the game
against Nevada, Tyler spotted Jeff in the crowd. He stopped and gave his friend
a hug. He told him he was sorry to hear about his older brother. He said he’d
be there for him if he needed anything.
Sometimes, that’s just lip service.
Not with Tyler.
Jeff asked the quarterback if he wanted to go to dinner
after the game. Tyler didn’t skip a beat.
“For me, I put myself in other people’s shoes,” he said. “If
I lost my brother, I’d want someone to be there and go sit down and have a meal
with me. He looks at me as more than just a quarterback.”
Tyler had a whirlwind of a week.
After getting the news of Chris’s death, he was diagnosed
with strep throat, a recurring issue since he’s lived in Laramie. He missed
practice and was far from 100 percent when he was forced into action late in
the first quarter against the Wolf Pack. He said he was “coughing up a lung” on
the sideline, but he was playing no matter what.
Tyler took the reins of the Cowboys’ offense for good in the second half, tossing a 25-yard touchdown strike to Jackson Marcotte to give the Pokes a commanding 31-3 lead.
Jeff has always believed in Tyler. When he lost his starting job to Sean Chambers late last season, he offered words of encouragement and made sure to tell the world on social media his opinion of what kind of man Tyler was on and off the field.
When he led the Cowboys to an unthinkable comeback victory
over Air Force in the snow in Laramie last November, Jeff was the first to
That’s just part of what compelled the sophomore from Elk
Grove, Calif., to take Jeff up on his offer.
“He’s been a huge fan of mine and stuck by my side,” Tyler
said. “My heart broke for him. It was a life taken way too soon from this
earth. Jeff lost his dad when he was 16, too. Having someone to talk to – just to
talk about life – helps us both out.”
Jeff knows Tyler could’ve done plenty of things with his
Saturday night. After all, he is a college student.
“No, I wasn’t really surprised,” Jeff said about Tyler joining him for a meal. “The relationship I have with him, it didn’t surprise me at all. He messaged me and that meant a lot to me that he cared enough to do that.
That’s just the kind of person he is. He has a big heart. He’s
just a solid guy, who comes from a great family, great parents. I don’t think
he even thought twice about it.”
“Wyoming people are top-notch,” Tyler said. “They go out of
the way to make sure you’re OK.”
He was simply repaying the favor.
One of the first texts Jeff sent out when he found out about his brother was to Tiffani Vander Waal.
She has become a close friend since the two met when Jeff was standing by the rail watching Josh Allen warm up before the 2017 season. They struck up a fast friendship. Jeff even started tailgating with the family.
They talked about football, sprint cars, and of course, the
When Tiffani received that text, she said she was driving.
Her heart, she said, immediately went to her friend in Casper.
“It was so unexpected,” Tiffani said over the phone from her
home in northern California. “Jeff was one of the first people we met in
Wyoming. It’s a genuine, true friendship. We just clicked. He’s super nice. It’s
in my nature to take care of people, so I really feel for him.”
Tiffani and her husband, Jeff, didn’t make it to the Nevada
game. Bugher didn’t know if he’d make it either.
Last-second plans – honestly, wanting to escape the
situation – forced Jeff into the car and on the road to Laramie that day. He
wanted to be in his happy place, around people he cares about, watching the
team he grew up loving.
That was the peace he needed.
Cooper Rothe and Ayden Eberhardt’s family sat with him and his girlfriend, Darcy Cobb. He’d be lying if he said it wasn’t an emotional day, he said.
“It was nice to get to hang out with all our friends,” Jeff
said. “They all knew. They had all reached out to me. It’s almost like we are a
family. We look out for each other. It’s pretty cool to have people care about
you like that. Football is the thing I enjoy most in my life.”
Despite a racing mind, Jeff said he watched Tyler stand on
the bench, towel waving above his head cheering on his teammates. That has
become the norm. The fact that Tyler was inserted into the lineup made a hard
day much more palatable. The win didn’t hurt, either.
“I didn’t know he was going to play,” Jeff said. “He’s a
special kid. He’s just amazing, in my opinion. Some of these quarterbacks, they
don’t get the starting job and they cry and want to transfer immediately. Not
him. Man, it was cool to see him out there.”
Jeff said he will never forget the time he took his brother
to the Potato Bowl in Boise. He was going through a tough time. He had just
lost his job.
They spent a few quality days together, driving, hanging out
and watching the Cowboys play.
“He loved seeing Josh Allen play,” Jeff said of Chris. “He
got a picture with him. That’s a memory I’ll remember forever. We got to witness
Allen announce he was going to the NFL.”
Jeff is typically that guy, the one who is there for
Joe Leonard is a University of Tennessee football season ticket holder, but was fascinated with Allen, too. He used to watch the Cowboys from his Georgia home. They always played late on Saturday nights. That’s when Joe would finally have time to relax after taking care of his ailing wife, who was dying of cancer.
Joe and Jeff struck up a friendship on Facebook.
Joe, in a Wyoming sweatshirt, experienced his first game at
War Memorial Stadium when the Cowboys beat UNLV in late September. Jeff showed
him around, introduced him to his friends and even took him to a Rockies game.
Friday, the day Chris was laid to rest, Joe left this message on Jeff’s Facebook page.
“Jeff, I know Friday will be a hard day for you and your
family. I just wanted to let you know you will be in my thoughts. Take care.”
When Jeff was asked if he wanted to add anything to the
narrative of this story, he said his brother was a great guy, but added alcohol
is a powerful addiction. He wishes he could’ve stepped in to help more.
Jeff can’t deny it, he’s heartbroken. But he wants those
close to him to know that he will forever be thankful. Especially to the Vander
“Tiffani is one of the greatest people in the world, so is Jeff,”
he said. “I text her 15 times a day, every day. She’s almost a second mom to me.
She’s always been there. It’s really cool. It’s great to have friends like