Neff’s rainbow turns tide for Cowboys
LARAMIE – Many Wyoming fans credit the moment with turning
Saturday’s game around.
The Cowboys trailed heavily favored Missouri, 14-0, after a
forgettable 15 minutes of football. The crowd was out of it. The team, well, most
figured they were, too.
But something special happened.
Over the loudspeaker, Wyoming public-address announcer, Jack Nokes, introduced the MoiMoi family. They stood in the north end zone and waived to the crowd as it gave a roaring standing ovation. Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl, despite the game situation, trotted down to embrace them.
Then, a rainbow popped out of the clouds and appeared over
War Memorial Stadium.
Was it a sign?
Whatever it was, it worked.
Wyoming went on to score 27 points the following quarter en
route to a stunning 37-31 upset over the Tigers that night.
Sally Ann Shurmur, a columnist with the Casper Star-Tribune and daughter of former Wyoming head coach, Fritz Shurmur, spoke with the family following that emotional scene.
MoiMoi’s father said simply, “he was here.”
According to his high school football coach, Naphtali MoiMoi was a dedicated, relentless and fiercely loyal friend and teammate.
“He was the kind of person you would want next to you in your toughest moment,” Justin Redemer said Monday evening.
MoiMoi, a 6-foot, 4-inch, 265-pound defensive tackle, went missing in the Pacific Ocean after a day of boarding with his friends in Half Moon Bay outside of his hometown of Hayward, Calif. He was celebrating his upcoming graduation. Spending the precious time he had left with his friends before chasing his dreams in Laramie.
A rip tide pulled him into the deep.
His body was recovered April 28, a day after the Cowboys spring football game.
Wyoming held a moment of silence for MoiMoi. Each helmet featured a black sticker with the No. 50 and initials "NM."
Gordie Haug, Wyoming’s running backs coach/director of player personnel, recruited MoiMoi. The loss still leaves him visibly shaken to this day.
“That,” Haug paused, “shoot, that’s still hard to put into
words. I think about him every day. Being fortunate to have this day and be
blessed and living, puts things in perspective when something like that
happens. That was extremely difficult for me on a personal level.
“There’s no playbook to be able to deal with that stuff. It’s
Bohl echoed Haug’s sentiments. In 36 years of coaching, he
has never been in a situation like this.
Bohl, Haug and defensive tackles coach, Pete Kaligis, attended the funeral in northern California. Bohl even spoke at the services. He said seeing the family so grief stricken was hard to witness.
“When I first got the call, I was kind of numb,” Bohl said. “That’s a really special family. It was a neat opportunity to speak at the funeral, but as a parent, you never expect to bury your own kids. Seeing the heartache for them was really challenging.”
Saturday night, that display was for the fans and UW
supporters who didn’t get to know the guy they called “Neff.”
It was also for the family.
“They feel really connected to the University of Wyoming,” Bohl said. “We believed in their son and a lot of other people didn’t. While he’s not here playing in the brown and gold, his family was. It was a unique situation. In coaching, you care about young people. You recruit their family, too.”
Each Thursday afternoon, Redemer takes his Hawyard High School football team to MoiMoi’s grave site. He said it makes his team stronger, closer.
Saturday night, Redemer watched on television as the Cowboys
shocked the college football world. He also received a text message from the
It was a photo of the rainbow.
“It's just a blessing to see his memory live on and impact the lives of thousands,” Redemer said. “I have no doubt he was with Wyoming that night.
“He will be with them, and with us, all season.”