UW’s Top 50 football players: No. 10
LARAMIE -- During this summer series we are going to countdown the Top 50 football players in Wyoming history, presented by Premier Bone & Joint Centers, Worthy of Wyoming.
The rules are simple: What was the player's impact while in Laramie? That means NFL stats, draft status or any other accolade earned outside of UW is irrelevant when it comes to this list.
This isn't a one-man job. This task called for a panel of experts. Joining me is Robert Gagliardi, Jared Newland, Ryan Thorburn and Kevin McKinney. We all compiled our own list of 50 and let computer averages do the work. Think BCS -- only we hope this catalog is more fair.
Don't agree with a selection? Feel free to sound off on our Twitter page @7220sports.
Safety, 1994-97, Arvada, Colorado
Here's why: Is Wyoming Safety U?
It sure looks that way.
Plenty of them have landed on this list: Tashaun Gipson, John Salley, Selmer Pederson, Aaron Kyle, John Wendling, Marcus Epps, Chris Prosinski and Andrew Wingard, to be exact.
Well, here's another one, arguably the best of them all.
No, he didn't have the tackle numbers of a Salley or a Wingard. He didn't go on to have NFL success like Gipson, Kyle, Wendling or Prosinski, either. But if there was a pass coming anywhere in his general direction it was contested -- or snagged -- by No. 45 himself.
Lee picked off 17 passes during his four-year career in Laramie. That is still the standard, three ahead of Paul Wallace on the all-time list. Twice, once in 1996 and again in '97, Lee hauled in eight interceptions. That is still a single-season record, too.
That's not all.
Twice in his career he finished a single game with three picks. Lee did it against SMU in 1996. The second time happened the following year against Montana.
The biggest interception of his career happened in the regular-season finale in '96. Snow, mud and sub-zero temperatures couldn't even help Colorado State receivers get a beat on Lee. Moses Moreno found that out the hard way. Ryan Thorburn and Jared Newland go into detail about that game below.
In May, I penned a story called "Just the Facts: Brian Lee could pick it."
Not only was he the best in UW history in that particular category, Lee is one of the best to do it in NCAA lore. He has more interceptions than a few former NFL guys you might remember: Eric Allen, Sam Madison, Dennis Smith, Charles Woodson, Ronde Barber, Steve Atwater, Ronnie Lott and many, many others. In the history of the Western Athletic Conference/ Mountain West, Lee is tied for third all-time.
Lee is one of four Consensus All-Americans in program history, joining Marcus Harris, Jay Novacek and Jack Weil. The FWAA, Football News and Walter Camp Foundation all named him a First Team All-American. After that '97 season, Lee was also named an academic All-American. He was the first Cowboy to ever achieve that.
Thorburn's take: The Drive did not drive the final nail in the Colorado State coffin.
Wyoming’s legendary 14-play, 96-yard march down the snowy field at Hughes Stadium featured clutch throws by Josh Wallwork, Marcus Harris’ Biletnikoff Award-clinching performance and Marques Brigham’s powerful go-ahead touchdown run.
But the Rams still had 1 minute, 48 seconds to respond with a potential game-winning field goal.
All-everything safety Brian Lee ended the drama by intercepting a Moses Moreno pass on the second play of CSU’s drive to clinch the Cowboys’ 25-24 win in the 1996 Border War.
That memorable interception was one of 17 picks the Arvada, Colo., import delivered during his remarkable Wyoming career (1994-97).
I've been in a lot of locker rooms over the years and not many were as cramped or celebratory as the visitors' locker room on that cold day in Fort Collins.
“Many of my favorite memories came from just hanging out with my friends and teammates. Whether it was in the dorms, at a house, in the locker room or on a plane, the friendships built are what I will always remember,” Lee said during a where-are-they-now profile on the athletic department website. “I also will never forget intercepting a pass in the final few minutes against CSU to help us win the game, and then learning an hour later that we were heading to the WAC Championship."
Lee set the program’s career (17), single-season (8) and single-game (3) interception records. He was both a consensus All-American on the field and an Academic All-American first team selection in 1996 while helping the Cowboys to a 10-2 finish.
After finishing with eight interceptions in 1996 for Joe Tiller, Lee matched that total in only 11 games in 1997 for Dana Dimel. He had three picks against SMU in 1996 and three more against Montana in 1997.
Lee’s consistent dominance and knack for making big plays in the biggest moments makes him one of Wyoming’s all-time greats.
Newland's take: We all remember the 1996 game at CSU, right?
Josh Wallwork, Marcus Harris, Marques Brigham and Co. drove 96 yards for the go-ahead touchdown for the win. Well, the guy who sealed the victory was Brian Lee as he picked off a pass as the Rams were driving to get in to field goal range.
That interception might be one of Wyoming’s most remembered of all time and it was one of Lee’s school record 17 picks.
We have talked about many “ball-hawks” and safeties on this Top-50 list but Lee was around the ball more than any of them. He wasn’t the physical force of a Gipson, Wingard or Wendling but he made more impactful plays.
If you saw Brian walking across campus or in a restaurant in downtown Laramie, you probably didn’t know who he was as he didn’t look like a football player but he was one hell of a football player.
How the panel voted: Cody Tucker (15), Robert Gagliardi (12), Jared Newland (7), Ryan Thorburn (5), Kevin McKinney (10)
Previous selections: No. 50, No. 49, No. 48, No. 47, No. 46, No. 45, No. 44, No. 43, No. 42, No. 41, No. 40, No. 39, No. 38, No. 37, No. 36, No. 35, No. 34, No. 33, No. 32, No. 31, No. 30, No. 29, No. 28, No. 27, No. 26, No. 25, No. 24, No. 23, No. 22, No. 21, No. 20, No. 19, No. 18, No. 17, No. 16, No. 15, No. 14, No. 13, No. 12, No. 11
Cody Tucker: Brand Manager and creator of 7220sports.com. Tucker has covered the Cowboys since June of 2019, but was a season-ticket holder for nearly three decades. Tucker has also covered Michigan State University Athletics for the Lansing State Journal and Detroit Free Press and the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins during his 10-year journalism career
Robert Gagliardi: Former sports editor and University of Wyoming beat reporter for WyoSports. Gagliardi covered the Cowboys from more than a quarter century. He also covered the team at the Branding Iron, the UW student newspaper. Gagliardi also co-authored the book: The Border War: The Bronze Boot Rivalry Between Colorado State and Wyoming
Jared Newland: Currently the local sales manager for Townsquare Media SE Wyoming, Newland worked with and around Wyoming athletics for 20 years, starting as a student athletic trainer in 1990. Newland has also served in the Sports Information Office, the Cowboy Joe Club, Wyoming Sports Properties and was a UW Athletics Hall of Fame Committee Member from 2002-14.
Ryan Thorburn: Currently covering the Oregon Ducks for The Register-Guard, Thorburn also covered the Cowboys in the early and mid-90's for the Branding Iron and Casper Star Tribune. He has also written four books about Wyoming Athletics: The Border War: The Bronze Boot Rivalry Between Colorado State and Wyoming, Cowboy Up: Kenny Sailors, The Jump Shot and Wyoming’s Championship Basketball History, Lost Cowboys: The Story of Bud Daniel and Wyoming Baseball and Black 14: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Wyoming Football
Kevin McKinney: Currently the senior associate athletics director for external affairs at the University of Wyoming, McKinney also serves as the radio color commentator for Wyoming football and men's basketball. McKinney has been involved with UW Athletics in some capacity since 1972. He was also inducted into the Wyoming Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2015.
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