Christian Okoye was a running back that took the nation by storm in 1989. He was an amazing running back for the Kansas City Chiefs, and became known to the public as the “Nigerian Nightmare”. Okoye did not have long career with the Chiefs, but fans of the NFL will never forget him. Unfortunately he will always be linked to Denver Broncos safety Steve Atwater for the hit he delivered on Okoye on Monday September 17th, 1990.
Okoye grew up in Nigeria, and while there, never played American football. Christian played soccer, and competed in track and field. Okoye would attend Azusa Pacific University, and in 1982 he won the first of his seven National Titles in shot put, discuss and the hammer throw. Christian was an amazing athlete, but was still focused on track and field. In 1984 the Olympics were coming to Los Angeles, and Okoye wanted to compete for his country in track and field. While he had all the statistics necessary to make the team, he was omitted from Nigeria’s roster. This turned Okoye off from track and field, and he joined his college’s football team, even though he had never played the sport before.
Christian was a beast of a running back, standing at 6’1” tall and weighing close to 260 pounds. Okoye was able to dominate the defenses he faced in his three years playing for Azusa Pacific, and in turn was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the second round of the 1987 NFL Draft. He was such a rare talent, and a perfect blend of size and speed. While he was 260 pounds, he still was a track athlete and had 4.40 speed in the 40-yard dash, which opened everyone’s eyes.
In his rookie season Christian only had 157 carries for 660 yards with three scores, but he also fumbled five times. That led to head coach Frank Gansz using Okoye less. In his second season Gansz only had #35 tote the ball 105, which translated into 473 yards, three scores and only one fumble. The Cheifs were 8-22-1 in those two seasons, and that ended the Frank Gansz era. New head coach Marty Schottenheimer came in and saw the potential in Okoye.
Scottenheimer knew that Christian had only been playing the game of football for a short period of time, and he did not have a fluid understanding of the offense. What he did have was an amazing combination of size and speed, and Marty wanted him to get the ball. In 1989 Christian got the ball 370 times, and ran for 1,480 yards and 12 scores while earning the nickname the Nigerian Nightmare.
The happy go lucky Okoye embraced the nickname, and became a nightmare for defenses to think about. He was still a raw player and did fumble eight times on the season, but Schottenheimer knew he was his best weapon, and he was going to keep going to him, unlike coach Gansz. During the 1989 season the Nightmare ran for over 100 yards in eight games, and had two others where he ran for 95 and 98 yards. The Nigerian Nightmare was the talk of the league, but that talk would not last long.
The following season, in week two, the Chiefs would face off against the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football in Denver. There was a lot of coverage of the Nigerian Nightmare by the ABC crew, but little did they know his nightmare would come that night in the form of Steve Atwater.
The Nightmare was busting through a big hole in the offensive line, when Broncos safety Steve Atwater stepped in and lowered the boom on Okoye. Atwater had the perfect hitters stance, and drilled Okoye, knocking him three yards in the other direction. This was the first time that The Nigerian Nightmare had ever hit a defender and gone backward. It was also the end of Okoye causing nightmares for opposing defenses.
Following that game, Christian only had four more 100-yard rushing games in his career. He would rush for over 1,000 yards again in 1991, but his career would end after just one more season. After that hit, he was never the same runner, and he also continued to be plagued by fumbles, finishing his career with 27 of them.
The Nigerian Nightmare may have only lasted for a short period of time in the NFL, but that awesome season of 1989 will always be one to remember. Unfortunately, he will most likely be remembered for the shot he took from Atwater, but at least he will always be remembered.