UW’s Top 50 football players: No. 38
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.
Larry "Bo" Nels
Defensive line, 1966-69, North Syracuse, New York
Here's why: Larry Nels' Cowboys went 27-5 during his first three seasons on campus.
Wyoming was a "bounce pass" away from perfection in 1966. The following year, the Pokes went through the regular season undefeated. A 20-13 setback against LSU in the Sugar Bowl was the lone blemish on the team's record.
It might not have happened had Nels not fractured his ankle in the first half.
Nels helped lead a UW defense that ranked No. 1 in the nation that fall. Just how dominant was that group? Well, seven of its 11 opponents scored 10 points or less. Wyoming pitched a road shutout at Utah and held Wichita State, San Jose State and New Mexico to seven points or fewer.
The 1969 team could've been the Cowboys' best with Nels anchoring the defensive front. They started the year 6-0, holding five of those teams to nine points or less.
After a Week 4 win over UTEP, 14 Black players asked head coach Lloyd Eaton if they could wear black armbands to protest racial injustice in the Mormon Church. BYU was coming to town the following week.
Eaton wasn't hearing it.
He dismissed every one of those players before the Pokes pounded the Cougars 40-7 on Oct. 18. The following week, SJSU came to town -- with black armbands on. UW took care of business against the Spartans, squeaking out a 16-7 victory. It would be the last win of the season as the Cowboys dropped their final four contests.
Nels was inducted into the Wyoming Athletics Hall of Fame in September of 2000. His plaque reads: "Nels was well known for his quickness, toughness, and blocking ability ... Nels was an All-American candidate and as a member of the nation’s number one defense let the cowboys to their second WAC Championship. Nels also earned All-WAC honors in 1969."
His plaque also uses words like "feared" and "terrorized."
Nels went on to play professionally for the New York Giants before eventually heading north to suit up for the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League.
Back in 2005, Nels attended the home opener in Laramie. It was the Cowboys first time playing a home game on artificial turf.
"This is the nicest field I've ever been on," Nels told the Casper Star Tribune. "My ashes are going to be spread here, I swear to God."
Does that sound like a Top 50 football player in UW history or what?
Thorburn's take: Alan Simpson was a freshman when Wyoming finished 10-0 in 1950 and earned a varsity letter for College Football Hall of Fame coach Bowden Wyatt in 1952.
The future U.S. Senator was also one of the 72,858 fans in the stands to watch Wyoming's pursuit of perfection against LSU in the 1968 Sugar Bowl.
And with the Cowboys leading 13-0 lead at halftime, thanks in large part to All-American defensive lineman Larry “Bo” Nels domination of the line of scrimmage, the 10,000 or so brown-and gold-clad fans were on the verge of celebrating a monumental victory on Bourbon Street.
Unfortunately, Nels suffered a broken ankle in the second quarter, which prevented the key cog on Wyoming’s top-ranked defense from playing in the second half.
“When Larry Nels went down, I said to (my wife) Ann, ‘Watch out, they’re going to go right up that hole,’" Simpson recalled in Black 14: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Wyoming Football. “And some third-string tailback made about 120 yards.”
Local hero Glenn Smith, a New Orleans high school legend and the Tigers’ third-string running back, promptly scored to begin the comeback. LSU prevailed, 20-13, to spoil the Hollywood ending for the previously undefeated Pokes.
Wyoming won three consecutive conference championships (1966-68) during his first three seasons in Laramie.
“The years I was there, we never lost a home game. That was special,” Nels said. “Winning a WAC championship is nice. Now days, if you win a conference championship, they give you a big ring. Not back then. It was just kind of expected of us.”
Nels earned his second all-WAC selection in 1969, but in the aftermath of the Black 14 incident the team was drubbed in its final four games following a 6-0 start.
So Nels is part of two notable what-if scenarios in Wyoming Cowboys history: What if he didn’t get injured in the Sugar Bowl? What if Lloyd Eaton had listened to his Black players and handled the 1969 season differently?
One thing we do know: Nels is one of the 50 greatest players to ever suit up for Wyoming.
How the panel voted: Cody Tucker (NR), Robert Gagliardi (NR), Jared Newland (28), Ryan Thorburn (25), Kevin McKinney (34)
Cody Tucker: Brand Manger 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.