TUCKER: Greatest non-conference players I’ve seen in The War
LARAMIE -- I have been to a lot of Wyoming games in my life.
For 28 straight seasons, I never missed a game at War Memorial Stadium. That streak began in 1989.
That, coupled with the absolute boredom of summer and the painful waiting game we are all playing while we wait for COVID-19 to dictate the upcoming season, I thought we could go over some of those great games.
Also, I want to hear from you. What are some of your most memorable games? In conference? Out of conference? How about the great players you have seen live and in person, playing against the Cowboys?
Let's have some fun with this. And, before anyone screams about me not mentioning Gale Sayers, I want to reiterate, this list is from my experience only.
Today, I'm listing the greatest non-conference players I ever saw play in Laramie. Tomorrow, I'll tackle former WAC and Mountain West players I've seen live inside The War:
QB - Jeff Garcia
San Jose State
Big West Conference
Jeff Garcia was not intimidated to play at 7,220 feet above sea level. Three weeks prior, San Jose State's junior quarterback led the Spartans to a titanic 39-30 upset win over Minnesota inside the Metrodome in Week 2 of the 1992 season. Garcia led the Spartans on a pair of touchdown drives against Joe Tiller's Cowboys on an October afternoon in Laramie. He was also the placeholder for placekicker Joe Nedney, who booted a record-breaking 60-yard field goal to give SJSU a 26-24 victory. The following season, Garcia and the Spartans knocked off the Cowboys 36-25 in northern California. In three seasons at SJSU, Garcia threw for 6,545 yards and 48 touchdowns. He became a four-time NFL Pro Bowl selection after going undrafted in 1994.
QB - Kurt Warner
Gateway Conference (I-AA)
Joe Tiller delivered this beautiful quote to the Associated Press after the Cowboys escaped with a 45-42 win over I-AA Northern Iowa in Week 2 of the 1993 season: "Well, we got ahead and then we got behind and we got ahead and then we got behind and we got ahead and then we got behind and we got ahead again." That afternoon, UW receiver Ryan Yarborough became the 14th player in NCAA history to compile 3,000 yards receiving. This game still marks the seventh highest-scoring game in UNI history. It's not hard to tell why -- a guy named Kurt Warner was under center. The senior didn't become a regular starter until that season. When the dust settled, he was the conference's Offensive Player of the Year. By now, you all know Warner's story. He went from undrafted and bagging groceries to Super Bowl MVP to NFL Hall of Famer.
WR - Troy Edwards; QB - Tim Rattay
Troy Edwards was a first-team All-American and claimed the Fred Biletnikoff Trophy as the nation's best wide receiver in 1998. His quarterback, Tim Rattay, wasn't too shabby himself. Edwards hauled in 140 receptions that season for 1,996 yards and 27 touchdowns. Rattay connected on 68 percent of his passes, amassing 4,943 passing yards and 46 touchdowns. Edwards was the 13th overall selection in the 1999 NFL Draft. A year later, Rattay went to San Francisco in the seventh round. During that 1998 meeting in Laramie, Dana Dimel's stingy defense held that duo in check for the most part, pulling away for a 31-19 win. That was the second fewest points the Bulldogs put on the board all season.
RB - Ian Johnson
Western Athletic Conference
The Cowboys and Broncos were not yet conference foes in 2006 when Boise State escaped War Memorial Stadium with a narrow 17-10 victory over the Jacob Doss-led Pokes. Ian Johnson, who later became known for proposing to his girlfriend after scoring the game-winning points in a Fiesta Bowl upset of No. 7 Oklahoma, rushed for 119 yards on 23 carries against UW that September afternoon in Laramie. Johnson had a career year in 2006, eclipsing the 1,700-yard mark and scoring 25 touchdowns for the undefeated Broncos. Boise State averaged nearly 40 points per game that season. Wyoming, led by Mitch Unrein, John Wendling and others, held BSU to just 246 yards of total offense. Johnson was on the watch list for the Doak Walker (semifinialist) and Walter Camp (final watch list) Awards that season.
DT - Chris Long
Atlantic Coast Conference
Chris Long, son of NFL Hall of Famer, Howie Long, was definitely on the mind of Joe Glenn and his staff that sunny opening day in 2007. Long was coming off a 57-tackle season that included 9.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. The year prior, Virginia's defense, led by Long, held the Cowboys to just 12 points in an overtime win in Charlottesville. This time, it was Devin Moore and Wynel Seldon ran right through the All-American to the tune of 199 yards rushing and a score. Wyoming rolled to a dominating 23-3 victory over the Cavaliers in Laramie. Long had seven tackles and two sacks in the loss. He went on to rack up 79 tackles, 19 for loss and 14 sacks during his senior season.
QB - Colt McCoy
Coming off a 12-1 season and a win over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, the Texas Longhorns paid a visit to Laramie in 2009. They brought their Heisman hopeful quarterback with them. Though Wyoming jumped out to an early lead after Luke Ruff blocked a first-half punt and Ghaali Muhammad scooped it up and scored from six yards out (still the loudest I have ever heard War Memorial Stadium in my life), the Cowboys weren't able to keep the momentum and fell, 41-10. Colt McCoy finished the day 30-of-47 for 337 yards and three touchdowns. An "off day," according to the senior. "I think I was trying to do too much, try to make something happen that wasn't there," McCoy said of his slow start. "I fumbled once, the ball slipped out of my hands, made a stupid throw on a crossing route. I saw the [defender] and threw it right to him. It's just all mental and those things have to pass." McCoy finished his final season in Austin 3,521 yards passing and 27 touchdowns. He was a Heisman finalist that season and went on to become a third-round NFL Draft pick.
QB - Kellen Moore
Western Athletic Conference
In a 51-6 thrashing of the Cowboys in 2010, the third-ranked Broncos were led by quarterback Kellen Moore. That day, Moore threw for 370 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also had future NFL players Doug Martin (105 yards rushing) and Titus Young (94 yards receiving) helping him along the way. Moore, then a junior, finished the season with 3,845 passing yards to go along with 35 touchdown tosses. Moore was a second-team All-American that season. He also made a few awards lists: Davey O'Brien, Manning, Walter Camp and Maxwell.
RB - Rex Burkhead
Junior running back Rex Burkhead led Nebraska with 170 yards rushing on just 15 carries in a 38-14 win over the Cowboys in 2011. He also scored a pair of touchdowns and finished with a 45-yard scamper. That was the only season Burkhead rushed for more than 1,000 yards, finishing with 1,357 and 15 touchdowns. He was named a first-team All-Big Ten selection. He was also the difference maker that afternoon in War Memorial Stadium. Burkhead was a sixth-round selection of the Bengals in the 2013 NFL Draft. Since 2017, he has been a running back for the New England Patriots.
WR - Kenny Golladay
In one of the most memorable games in Wyoming history, Kenny Golladay was not going down without a fight. The current wide receiver for the Detroit Lions led the Huskies with 144 yards on 10 receptions. That included two touchdowns. He wasn't done there. He also led Northern Illinois in rushing with 82 yards on six carries. He scored on the ground, too. But, it wasn't enough. Josh Allen dove into the end zone in the third overtime to give the Cowboys a 40-34 win in a game that ended early Sunday morning. In his two seasons in DeKalb, Golladay caught 160 passes for 2,285 yards and 18 touchdowns. He was selected in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft.
QB - Justin Herbert
PAC 12 Conference
It wasn't his best game in an Oregon uniform, but he got the job done. Justin Herbert, who was selected No.6 overall by the Chargers this past spring, completed 18-of-29 passes for 251 yards and a score in a 49-13 win over the Pokes in 2017. Just a sophomore, Herbert finished the season with 1,983 yards and 15 touchdown passes. He just got better from there, racking up 6,622 passing yards over his last two seasons to go along with 61 touchdown tosses. He capped his career at Oregon last winner as the MVP of the Rose Bowl.
QB - Gardner Minshew
PAC 12 Conference
When west coast pundits weren't preaching the gospel of Herbert, they were talking about this guy -- Gardner Minshew. It's easy to see why. In a 2018 meeting in Laramie, the East Carolina transfer completed 38-of-57 passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-19 victory over the Cowboys. Minshew was just the latest in a long line of prolific gunslingers in Mike Leach's air-raid offense. In his one season as a starter in Pullman, Minshew passed for 4,779 yards and 38 scores. Unlike many of Leach's quarterbacks, Minshew has so far succeeded at the next level. He started 12 games for the Jacksonville Jaguars a season ago, completing more than 60 percent of his passes and racking up 3,271 yards through the air. He also tossed 21 touchdowns compared to just six interceptions as a rookie. Side note: He was also roommates with Wyoming's Andrew Wingard last season in Jacksonville.
QB - Kelly Bryant
It was the premiere of the biggest offseason acquisition in college football. Kelly Bryant, the former Clemson quarterback, had made the move to Missouri. Instantly, Tiger fans would forget about Drew Lock, right? Wrong. Bryant did throw for 423 yards in Laramie last September. He also tossed a pair of touchdown passes. What no one saw coming was a pair of turnovers that swung the momentum to the home sideline -- big time. Wyoming outlasted Bryant and the Tigers 37-31 that evening. To make matters even worse for the visitors, Wyoming turned Bryant into a one-trick pony. He finished with just 20 yards rushing on 11 carries. His second quarter fumble led to a scoop and score from CJ Coldon. he also threw a red zone interception across his body into the arms of Cassh Maluia. Bryant didn't have his best night in Laramie, but coming in, he was considered one of the best dual-threat signal callers in the game. He did finish his career with 5,553 passing yards and 31 touchdown passes to go along with 1,215 rushing yards and 17 scores on the ground.