Which Wyoming Cowboy wore it best? No. 33
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. 33 – Vic Washington
Running back/ defensive back/ returner, 1966-67, Plainfield, N.J.
Résumé in Laramie
Vic Washington’s name still litters the Wyoming record books. He is No. 1 in punt-return records: single-season (565 yards) and single game (145 against Arizona State in 1967). The three-time first-team All-Western Athletic Conference selection was also a dynamic kick returner, defensive back and running back at UW. His seven career interceptions are still good enough for ninth all time, and in 1966, he led the nation in punt returns with 443 yards on 34 attempts. Washington led the WAC in punt returns in his final two seasons. In those final magical to years in Laramie, Washington helped lead the Pokes to identical 10-1 records. Wyoming won the 1966 Sun Bowl over Florida State and came up just short in the Sugar Bowl the following season. Washington had seven tackles that day in New Orleans.
“I took every play like it was my last play,” Vic Washington once said. “That's the only way to play.”
That’s why he will forever be known as one of the most electrifying players in Wyoming history. It wasn’t just lip service, Washington backed it up. He played in all three facets of the game. He returned kicks and punts, played defensive back and was a running back on some of the best teams in program history.
The New Jersey native still owns plenty of school records. He was inducted into the Wyoming Athletics Hall of Fame in 2005. He was a two-time Grey Cup Champion in the Canadian Football League. In 1969, he was the MVP of Canada’s equivalent of the Super Bowl.
He went on to become an NFL Pro Bowl selection in 1971 as a member of the San Francisco 49ers. In total, he played nine professional football seasons.
At Wyoming, Washington set himself apart with his dazzling return abilities. It didn’t matter if it was on the kickoff or a punt, No. 33 was gone in a flash if you didn’t corral him.
Just ask BYU.
With the WAC title on the line in 1966, Washington took a kickoff 95 yards, silencing the Cougar faithful in Provo. That is still the fifth-longest return in program history. The Cowboys hammered BYU that afternoon, 47-14. That was the first of three straight conference titles for the Pokes.
Washington led the nation in punt returns that season. In just 34 tries, he amassed 443 yards. The following season, he finished second in that same category.
Washington returned three punts for touchdowns in his collegiate career. The dagger against BYU was his lone kick return for a score.
He was a Sun Bowl champion. He helped lead the sixth-ranked Cowboys to the 1968 Sugar Bowl.
Unfortunately, that would be his last game in a Wyoming uniform.
Tom Hawthorn contributed a piece to The Globe and Mail, Canada’s largest newspaper chain, after Washington’s death on Dec. 31, 2008.
Hawthorn said few matched Washington’s grace and fury in the open field. Injuries, the author says, put a damped on an otherwise brilliant career.
Then came the hard stuff.
“The former player became destitute, relying on food stamps and, for a time, living without a home in the community where he had been a high-school hero. He spent some time as an ordained pastor in Arizona,” the story reads. “For many years, he fought with the NFL over a disability pension. He also spoke in retirement of football's unspoken but widespread drug use, from amphetamines to cocaine to steroids, and admitted that his struggles with chronic pain led to depression.
“Mr. Washington died on the last day of 2008, nearly unnoticed by the sporting world. As a departure, it was as inauspicious as his beginning.”
With the Cowboys set to break down the door and compete for a national title in 1968, they would have to do it without Washington, who was expelled after a physical altercation with a 19-year-old student referee during an intramural basketball game. Washington was fined $25 and spend five days in jail for giving his fellow student seven stitches above the eye.
Dominic Rufran (2011-14) caught 203 passes in his four-year career in Laramie. He also racked up 2,487 receiving yards, mainly from quarterback Brett Smith.
Those two figures are still good enough for fifth and seventh all time, respectively.
Rufran still owns the school record for catching a pass in 49 consecutive games, two better than UW great, Jovon Bouknight. He caught 15 touchdown passes for the Cowboys.
In a 42-10 beatdown of visiting Idaho in 2013, Rufran snagged five passes for 61 yards and three of Smith’s four touchdown passes on the day.
Against Nebraska earlier in the season, Rufran hauled in 11 passes for a game-high 120 yards as the Cowboys narrowly fell to the Huskers in Lincoln, 37-34.
Rufran isn’t mentioned with some of the great wide receivers who have come through Laramie. After dissecting the numbers, maybe he should.
Another wide out who wore No. 33, David Leonard (2007-10), was a favorite target of Karsten Sween -- and later Austyn Carta-Samuels -- during his four years on campus.
Leonard caught 153 passes for 1,478 yards and hauled in eight touchdown grabs. His biggest came in the New Mexico Bowl when Leonard caught a 13-yard touchdown in double overtime to give the Cowboys a lead over Fresno State.
The score would stand as the Pokes defense took care of business yet again that evening in Albuquerque.
Fresno State 28
Who else wore No. 33
Steve Brown (FB), Al Bushala (RB), Darrell Perkins (HB), Scott Powers (K), Aaron Newton (RB), James Henderson (RB), Jermaine McDowell (RB), Pat Hirsch (DE/LB), Ryan Calahan (CB), CR Davis (RB), JR Moore (RB), Jared Killpack (RB/WR), Thatcher Vap (CB), Natrone Barnes (CB), Josh Harshman (TE), Leevi Lafaele (LB), Andy Dixon
- All available rosters and photos courtesy of the University of Wyoming. If we missed one, please email Cody@7220sports.com.