Christian Okoye

Ìgbo-American football player (born 1961)

American football player
Christian Okoye
refer to caption
Okoye in 2023
No. 35
Personal information
Born: (1961-08-16) August 16, 1961 (age 62)
Enugu, Nigeria
Height:6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)
Weight:253 lb (115 kg)
Career information
College:Azusa Pacific
NFL draft:1987 / Round: 2 / Pick: 35
Career history
  • Kansas City Chiefs (1987–1992)
Career highlights and awards
  • First-team All-Pro (1989)
  • Second-team All-Pro (1991)
  • 2× Pro Bowl (1989, 1991)
  • NFL rushing yards leader (1989)
  • PFWA All-Rookie Team (1987)
  • Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame
Career NFL statistics
Rushing yards:4,897
Yards per carry:3.9
Rushing touchdowns:40

Christian Emeka Okoye (/ˈkɔɪ/; born August 16, 1961) is a Nigerian–American former American football fullback for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1987 to 1992.[1][2][3] Nicknamed "the Nigerian Nightmare", he was known for his powerful running style and ability to break tackles. His six-season NFL career produced an NFL rushing champion title in 1989, first-team All-Pro honors in 1989, second-team All-Pro honors in 1991, two Pro Bowl appearances in 1989 and 1991, and three playoff appearances.[4] He ended his NFL career due to multiple injuries.[5] He was inducted into the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame in 2000.[3] He is also notable for not having ever played football until the age of 23, but later leading the NFL in rushing at age 28.[6]

College career

A member of the Igbo ethnic group, Okoye was born in Enugu, Nigeria. He arrived in the US at age 21 and did not play American football until age 23, when he joined the squad at California's Azusa Pacific University. He excelled in track and field, winning seven college titles in the shot put, discus, and hammer throw. The first time he attended an American football game, he found the game boring.[5][7]

After the Nigerian government declined Okoye for the Olympics in track and field, he sought other activities and began playing American football. Initially, he did not enjoy the roughness of the game and considered quitting, but friends convinced him to continue playing.[5] His speed (4.45-seconds in the 40-yard dash) was unusual for someone his size (6'1" and 260 lbs),[8] and this rare combination of talents led to his selection by the Kansas City Chiefs in the second round of the 1987 NFL Draft.[9]

Professional career

In his rookie year, Okoye rushed for 660 yards on 157 carries. The following year, a thumb injury limited him to nine games, and he finished the season with 473 yards.

In 1989, Okoye had by far his best statistical season, leading the league in both rushing attempts (370) and rushing yards (1,480), becoming the first Chiefs player to lead the NFL in rushing. Though the Chiefs missed the playoffs, Okoye was selected by UPI as the American Football Conference's Offensive Player of the Year and earned entry to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii.

The remainder of Okoye's career was marked by a nagging knee injury, which limited him to 805 yards and a 3.3 yard average per carry in 1990. Though his 1991 performance (1,031 yards and 4.6 yards per carry) earned him his second Pro Bowl appearance, his carries in 1992 were largely limited to goal-line situations. His last carry as a professional football running back was an 8-yard touchdown.

On August 25, 1993, Chiefs placed him on injured reserve before the regular season began due to knee injuries.[10] He underwent surgeries on both knees and was released on an injury settlement that September. He went home to California to continue rehabilitating his knee. He intended to work out for other teams before ultimately retiring.[11] He has stated that he ended his NFL career because he became tired of practice, and that he considered football to be a job.[5]

Okoye retired as the all-time rushing leader of the Chiefs, having amassed 4,897 yards, 1,246 attempts, and 14 games with at least 100 yards rushing, in his six seasons. Those team records have since been surpassed by Priest Holmes. His 40 career rushing touchdowns as a member of the Chiefs trail only Holmes and Marcus Allen. His Chiefs records for carries in a game and rushing attempts in a season were surpassed by Larry Johnson. Okoye was the team MVP in 1989, and was enshrined in the Chiefs Hall of Fame in 2000.

Okoye is well known in video games for his appearance in Tecmo Super Bowl (1991), in which he is nearly impossible to tackle.[12]

NFL career statistics

Year Team GP Att Yds Avg Lng TD Rec Yds Avg Lng TD
1987 KC 12 157 660 4.2 43 3 24 169 7.0 22 0
1988 KC 9 105 473 4.4 48 3 8 51 6.4 12 0
1989 KC 15 370 1,480 4.0 59 12 2 12 6.0 8 0
1990 KC 14 245 805 3.3 32 7 4 23 5.8 8 0
1991 KC 14 225 1,031 4.6 48 9 3 34 11.3 13 0
1992 KC 15 144 448 3.1 22 6 1 5 5.0 5 0
Career 79 1,246 4,897 3.9 59 40 42 294 7.0 22 0

Post-NFL career

Okoye was an investor in the Golden Baseball League and owned Okoye Health and Fitness, a company that sells nutritional supplements. He appeared as a boxer on the FX Network's Celebrity Boxing special. He founded the California Sports Hall of Fame, of which he is president.[13]

He appeared on the CBS reality show Pirate Master and was voted off by his shipmates on the second episode for his slow speed in the Expedition, receiving no gold.[14] He appeared on Pros vs Joes in its third season.

The Christian Okoye Foundation sponsors the Ontario Mills 5K and 10K race, benefiting local after-school athletic programs in the Inland Empire.

Okoye is part of the ownership team of the Kansas City Goats, an indoor football team that plays in The Arena League.[15]

Personal life

As a child in Nigeria, Okoye became good friends with Olympian Innocent Egbunike. When Egbunike began attending Azusa Pacific, he recommended Okoye for his discus abilities to track and field coaches, who offered Okoye a scholarship.[16]

Okoye married his college sweetheart Lauren Brown in 1990, and divorced in 1996.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Christian Okoye, RB at". Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  2. ^ "Christian Okoye Stats". Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  3. ^ a b "Official Website of the Kansas City Chiefs |". Kansas City Chiefs. Retrieved July 17, 2020.
  4. ^ Williams, Doug (October 2, 2017). "How Christian Okoye is still making an impact 30 years after his debut". Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d Radio interview on the Phoenix-based sports talk show "Gambo & Ash" on KTAR 620, April 10, 2008
  6. ^ Smith, M. D. (2022, July 21). Christian Okoye envisions a huge NFL talent influx from Africa. ProFootballTalk.
  7. ^ Petersen, Al (June 23, 2015). "Christian Okoye's past spurs him forward". Orange County Register. Retrieved March 3, 2019.
  8. ^ Sando, Mike (December 27, 2017). "Nigerian Nightmare: The legend lives on, 30 years later". Retrieved March 3, 2019.
  9. ^ "1987 NFL Draft Listing". Retrieved September 25, 2023.
  10. ^ "N.F.L. Training Camp Report". The New York Times. August 25, 1993.
  11. ^ "Chiefs and Okoye Reach Injury Settlement". The New York Times. September 2, 1993.
  12. ^ Strauss, Chris (October 23, 2012). "Chiefs legend Christian Okoye discovers his Tecmo Super Bowl dominance". USA Today.
  13. ^ "State's Hall of Fame to induct first class". The Union. Grass Valley, California. December 11, 2006. Retrieved May 8, 2020.
  14. ^ Warner, Tyrone (June 8, 2007). "Ex-NFL running back cut adrift from 'Pirate Master'". CTVglobemedia. Archived from the original on March 2, 2008. Retrieved February 27, 2009.
  15. ^ Palmer, Tod (July 17, 2023). "Arena football returns to Kansas City: Goats set to play in June 2024". KSHB. Retrieved July 18, 2023.
  16. ^ Lieber, Jill (April 27, 1987). "A Bruiser from Azusa". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved May 8, 2020.

External links

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Starting in 2022, the rushing yards leader is officially given the Jim Brown Award
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Kansas City Chiefs 1987 NFL draft selections
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