Which Wyoming Cowboy wore it best? No. 34
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. 34 – Ryan Christopherson
Running back, 1991-94, Glendale, Ariz.,
Résumé in Laramie
His Hall of Fame plaque calls him the “face of UW football” during his four-year college career. The numbers certainly back that up. When Ryan Christopherson graduated, he was the program’s all-time leading rusher (2,906 yards), held the single-season rushing record (1,455 yards in 1994) and was only the second Cowboy running back to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in consecutive seasons. His 37 carries against Northeast Louisiana is still the school standard, and his 244-yard day against UTEP in ’94 was the second-best single-game performance in UW history. Christopherson was named first-team All-Western Athletic Conference during his senior season, and for the first five weeks of the ’94 campaign, was the nation’s leading rusher. The Arizona Cowboy earned another postseason accolade when he was named a first-team Academic All-American. He was first team All-Academic in the WAC his entire college career. Today, Christopherson is third in rushing yards and in single-season yards. He also owns the 10th-best single-season in school history with 1,042 yards in 1993. He still owns the record for most attempts per game with 25.
“Wyoming's game plan Saturday against Tulsa was simple: Ryan Christopherson left; Christopherson right; Christopherson up the middle.”
The Associated Press article from 1994 was referring to the day the Cowboys’ 6-foot, 241-pound bulldozer dressed as a running back blasted the Hurricane to the tune of 163 yards and a touchdown.
Imagine what El Paso’s newspaper said after the ’94 season opener?
I’d imagine it would go something like this: “Ryan Christopherson ran over, around, through and past all 11 hapless Miners en route to a 244-yard day in Laramie.”
At the time, that was the second-best single-game performance in school history from a tailback.
Maybe he was still pissed off about the 52-17 loss to Kansas State in the 1993 Copper Bowl? In that game, Wyoming’s stable of tailbacks was held to just 36 yards.
“Woody Hayes would have been proud of us. That's Big Ten football," Wyoming head coach Joe Tiller told the media after the 17-7 win over Tulsa. "Our offensive game plan going in was to run the football at them, and we were pretty successful.”
Yep, not bad. After the UTEP thrashing, “Ryno,” as he was known by the locals, was the nations’ leading rusher. When his Wyoming career was all said and done, he was the program’s all-time leading rusher, too.
His 152-yard performance in a home win over San Diego State gave Christopherson 1,000 yards on the season. He joined some rare company, becoming only the second Cowboy to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in school history. The first was Dabby Dawson in 1988 and 1989.
There’s no doubt that Christopherson was a work horse for Tiller’s Cowboys.
With an offensive scheme where the run was used to set up the pass more than anything, Christopherson forced Tiller and Co. to put the ball in his gut an average of 25 times per game, which is still the standard in Laramie. Until a couple of guys named Devin Moore and Brian Hill showed up on campus, Christopherson was the best running back Wyoming had ever seen.
To make matters even better, he looked the part. He was a MAC truck with a neck roll.
Under that helmet and all those pads, Christopherson was also one of the smartest players to ever play for the Cowboys, earning first-team Academic All-American honors as a senior. He could’ve gone on to do just about anything – but the Jacksonville Jaguars wanted to try him out first.
Christopherson became the eighth pick in the history of the franchise in 1995. He played for the expansion Jaguars for one season before landing back home in the Phoenix area with the Cardinals for the 1996 campaign.
In 2006, Christopherson was honored by his school when he was inducted into the Wyoming Athletics Hall of Fame.
If you score a game-winning touchdown against Colorado State in Fort Collins with a conference title on the line, you’re making this list.
That’s not the only reason Marques Brigham (1995-98) is our honorable mention at No. 34, he was also pretty darn good. The running back from Denver is the fifth leading rusher in school history with 2,605 yards. His 25 rushing touchdowns are still good enough for seventh all time, and his 1,114 yards in 1998 is the eighth best single season ever at UW.
Back to that infamous touchdown.
With Wyoming trailing CSU 24-18 late in the fourth quarter, Brigham capped a 96-yard drive with a five-yard scamper into the end zone, sending the brown-and-gold-clad fans in the corner of Hughes Stadium into a frenzy. The Pokes traded in the sub-zero temperatures of Fort Collins for the desert of Las Vegas that day, clinching a berth in the first-ever WAC Championship game.
Brigham had one really tough moment during his UW career, too. And it came against another one of his home-state schools, the University of Colorado.
With 4:10 remaining, Brigham scored from 18 yards out to give the Cowboys a commanding 19-10 lead over the 16th-ranked Buffs in Boulder. The game was in the bag, right?
Instead, Ben Kelly took the ensuing kickoff 99 yards to give the home team life. What happened next, gave them the improbable win.
With a little more than 2:00 left on the clock, Brigham fumbled after being hit by Mike Phillips. One minute, CU was down nine. The next, they were on the UW 25-yard-line. After a three-play goal-line stand from the resilient Cowboy defense, Jeremy Aldrich nailed an 18-yard field goal on fourth down.
"We had them on the ropes," Wyoming linebacker Jim Talich told reporters after the game. "We had them beat. All we needed was to execute the plays late in the game and we would have won. We just needed to finish the job, but the breaks didn't go our way."
To Brigham’s credit, with tears in his eyes, he also faced the media that afternoon at Folsom Field.
More impressive, he went on to have a great career at UW, which included way more great moments than bad. He was yet another one of Tiller's tough backs.
Who else wore No. 34
Keith Nate (FB), Tom Rusler (FB), Randy Hughley (LB), Travis Williams (RB), Nate Scott (RB), Dorsey Golston (S), Sean Claffey (LB), Matt Birkness (LB), Siaosi Hala’api’api (LB), Taytoyn Montgomery (WR), Jaret Falkowski (DE), Jeff Burroughs (FB), Charles Hicks (LB), Titus Swen (RB)
- All available rosters and photos courtesy of the University of Wyoming. If we missed one, please email Cody@7220sports.com.