Which Wyoming Cowboy wore it best? No. 21
CHEYENNE -- Do you ever see a number on a Wyoming football jersey and think of all the great players to wear it? Yeah, me too. In this daily series, I’ll give you my take on which Pokes’ football player was the best ever to don each number. The criteria are simple: How did he perform at UW? What kind of impact did he have on the program?
No. 21 – Jim Kiick
Running back, 1965-67, Lincoln Park, N.J.
Résumé in Laramie
Jim Kiick was the first player in league history to be named first-team All-Western Athletic Conference three times. He was the Cowboys leading rusher in all three seasons in Laramie, eclipsing the 1,700-yard mark (1,714) and 10 touchdowns. Kiick also caught 52 passes for 561 yards and five scores. Wyoming went 26-6 overall in Kiick’s three seasons. They became the first WAC team to earn a New Year’s Bowl invite in the 1968 Sugar Bowl.
Jim Kiick, or “Butch Cassidy,” as he would later be known, was one of the biggest stars to ever play football at the University of Wyoming.
His combination of power and elusiveness at 5-foot, 11-inches and 215 pounds, made him one of the top running backs in the nation in 1968. He also happened to be a key figure on one of the best teams ever assembled, which ended in an invite to the Sugar Bowl against the LSU Tigers.
Though the No. 6 Cowboys would watch a 13-0 halftime lead slip away and fall 20-13 to what was basically a Tigers team playing a home game in muddy New Orleans, Kiick rushed for a touchdown and 75 yards on 19 carries for Lloyd Eaton's Cowboys that day. He also caught five passes from Paul Toscano for 48 yards.
Kiick’s best bowl appearance came during his junior campaign in 1966. He rushed for 135 yards on 25 attempts and caught four passes for 42 yards. Kiick scored two rushing touchdowns that day as the 15th-ranked Cowboys knocked off Florida State 28-20 in El Paso’s Sun Bowl.
Kiick was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Don Shula, Kiick’s head coach in the NFL, called him an “uncomplicated football player who loved the game for the simple things it can do to a man. Dirty his shirt. Bloody his chin. Satisfy his inhibitions. Relieve his tensions.”
As a member of the Dolphins famous backfield tandem with Larry Csonka (the Sundance Kid), Kiick did just that during his seven-year career in Miami – and his three seasons in Laramie.
After his senior season, Kiick was named to the Senior Bowl and was also selected to play in a college All-Star game against the Green Bay Packers. Kiick never saw action against the Packers. He was benched for partying too much that week with his future Miami teammate, Csonka.
And to think, that was just their first meeting.
Kiick was selected by Miami in the fifth round of the 1968 NFL Draft.
There, he would play in three consecutive Super Bowls, including scoring the decisive touchdown in Super Bowl VII as the Dolphins completed the only perfect 17-0 season in NFL history. Kiick’s one-yard plunge gave Miami a 14-7 lead that they would not relinquish.
“My specialty – the one-yard gallop,” Kiick quipped with reporters postgame.
The following season, Kiick scored his lone touchdown of the year in a 24-7 defeat of Minnesota in Super Bowl VIII.
That ’68 NFL Draft was a special one for the Wyoming Cowboys. Kicker Jerry DePoyster was selected in the second round by the Detroit Lions, Mike LaHood went to the Los Angeles Rams in that same round. Kiick went next, followed by Mike Dirks to the Eagles and Toscano played for the Houston Oilers.
Kiick still resides in South Florida. Sports Illustrated ran an article about the former UW great in the spring of 2017. He is embroiled in a lawsuit against the NFL and has been diagnosed with dementia.
“When people ask how is he doing—because of the NFL [concussion] lawsuit—I just say, ‘He’s fine.’ But I tell my close friends, ‘I lost my dad at 21 years old,’” Kiick’s daughter, Allie, told the magazine. “I love him to death, and I’m so proud of him and everything he’s accomplished—and I just wanted him to be really proud of me, too. But he just won’t ever understand, I guess.”
Kiick was inducted into the UW Athletics Hall of Fame in 1996. The Sugar Bowl team was enshrined the following season. The 1966 squad was inducted in 2010.
Jerry Hill (1958-60) was a first-team All-Skyline Conference player twice, in 1959 and 1960. He was an honorable mention All-American during those seasons, too. In 1992, he was enshrined as "Wyoming Football Player of the Century."
Yeah, that guy was pretty good.
Hill, a Lingle native, amassed 1,374 yards on just 288 carries for the Cowboys. Wyoming was 25-6 overall with Hill in the lineup, including a 14-6 win over Hardin-Simmons in the 1958 Sun Bowl.
Hill was best known nationally for his eight-year pro career with the Baltimore Colts, Along side Johnny Unitas, Hill racked up 2,668 rushing yards, which is still eighth all-time in Colts history. Hill played in Super Bowl III, a loss to Joe Namath's Jets, and Super Bowl V, a 16-13 win over the Dallas Cowboys.
Hill was inducted into the UW Athletics Hall of Fame in 1993.
You might remember Greg Van Leer (1994-98). He was the guy who picked off a Colorado State pass to help win the Border War in a muddy, smoke-filled Hughes Stadium in 1998.
Van Leer, a Minnesota native, not only have a knack for being around the ball, he would typically leave wide receivers and tight ends on their backside when he was finished with them.
Van Leer picked off nine passes during his three seasons in brown and gold. In 1997, he scooped up a San Jose State fumble and rumbled 90 yards for a touchdown, too. In 1998, Van Leer led the Cowboys with four picks.
We have to give a shout out to Shaun Wick (2012-16) here, too. Wick was as tough as they come. He battled injuries, including concussion issues during his tenure in Laramie. Yet despite the setbacks, Wick is sixth all-time in rushing yards with 2,533.
He is ninth in career touchdowns with 21 and owns the sixth-best single-game mark in program history with a 234-yard performance against SJSU in 2013.
Wick was a more than suitable counterpart for UW’s all-time leading rusher, Brain Hill.
And if he would’ve been healthy throughout his college career, who knows what his ceiling could’ve been.
Who else wore No. 21
Bob Bohus (DB), Jay Schaake (DB), Ronald Dean (CB), Amaicure Harris (RB), Curtis Dewberry (WR), Adam Sandoval (WR), Jean Dugas (CB), Meredeth Maxwell (WR), Lewis James (RB), Terrance Reese (WR), Marcial Rosales (S), Jake Scott (P/K), Larry Mitchell (S), Mark Nzeocha (LB), Landon Muse (WR), Shaun Wick (RB), Antonio Hull (CB), CJ Coldon (CB), Erik Spurlin-Renfroe (WR)
- All available rosters and photos courtesy of the University of Wyoming. If we missed one, please email Cody@7220sports.com.