Thursday Tribute: Christian Okoye

A late start in football transformed Okoye into a historic Chiefs player who set the path for future Nigerian athletes.

The NFL path for fullback Christian Okoye, better known as ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’, was not your regular NFL journey. Okoye began playing the sport after already being in his twenties.

In college, Okoye showed an interest in track and field, but his large size and freakish athletic ability catered more to football. At 260 pounds, being able to run around a 4.4 forty-yard dash made Okoye into a hot commodity.

The Chiefs selected Okoye in the second round of the 1987 NFL Draft. After only playing the sport for a few years, he was playing at the highest level in the world.

Okoye was thrown right into the fold in Kansas City. Starting all 12 of the games he appeared in as a rookie in 1987, according to Pro Football Reference.

Okoye accumulated over 800 total yards and three touchdowns in his first professional season. The following season, an injury limited Okoye to just nine games. Despite that, he was still able to match the three touchdowns he scored as a rookie.

Then in 1989, this was the season that would put nightmares into NFL defenders. Okoye exploded for 1,480 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. Okoye was the rushing leader and was named a First-Team All-Pro.

The Chiefs with first-year head coach Marty Schottenheimer went 8-7-1 and missed the playoffs, but Okoye was one bright spot for the franchise to look forward to going into the 1990s.

Okoye rebounded off that season for over 800 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, according to Pro Football Reference. The Chiefs made the postseason but lost to the Miami Dolphins 17-16.

Another thousand-yard season was in the making for Okoye in the 1991 season. Nine touchdowns also followed the Nigerian-born player, the Chiefs made the playoffs and won their first playoff game since 1969.

During this five-year stretch for Okoye, he proved to be a runner that can get into the endzone. Along with that, his power and speed helped guide the franchise to heights they hadn’t reached in decades.

Okoye then went on to struggle with his knees until the Chiefs eventually let him go. But it is important to contextualize what Okoye meant for others in Nigeria.

Several players have had Nigerian origins and have played in the NFL. Okoye helped to create that path for Nigerian athletes to have a place in American professional sports. This is especially true when it comes to one fighter in the UFC.

UFC Welterweight Champion Kamaru Usman also holds ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’, a nickname. Without Okoye setting the precedent for Nigerian athletes, the sports world may not have seen some of the faces we have over the years.

Okoye finished his career with 40 career touchdowns and 4,897 rushing yards, which at the time put him as the Chiefs’ all-time leader. Okoye currently sits at fourth all-time for career rushing yards in Chiefs history.