UND football alum, Denver Bronco prepares for his team’s Sunday clash on the sport’s biggest stage
UND football alum, Denver Bronco relishing his team’s Super Bowl run on sport’s biggest stage
University of North Dakota alumnus and Denver Bronco offensive lineman Chris Kuper escaped relatively unscathed last Tuesday from his first Super Bowl media day experience.
"It's nothing like you'd expect on a typical week," Kuper said of the throng of reporters and cameras he and his fellow Broncos faced. "I mean, it's like they let anyone in there. I think I did only three interviews that pertained to the game. Everyone is trying to make a story out of something."
Once that was over, though, for Kuper and his teammates, it was all about football as they inched toward a Sunday's Super Bowl showdown with the Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
Kuper, at 6-4 and 300 pounds, is in his eighth season in the National Football League – all with the Denver Broncos – after he was drafted in the fifth round (161st overall) in 2006. It was his first experience on his sport's biggest stage.
A nagging ankle injury kept him sidelined Sunday, but Kuper says he still felt the same sense of urgency for game day as his teammates.
Kuper's Broncos were defeated in the game 43-8 by a dominating defensive performance by the Seattle Seahawks.
Kuper, a native of Anchorage, Alaska, who still wears the same No. 73 that he did at UND, stressed his team didn't come to the Super Bowl just to site-see and take it all in.
"This is the biggest game of our lives," he said. "To be in awe of everything around us would be a big mistake in my opinion."
It's that kind of determination that fueled Kuper as a stalwart on the UND football offensive line from 2001-2005, earning many All-America accolades and other awards along the way.
Kuper said he and his family has gotten back to Grand Forks to check out his alma mater during the Broncos' off season for various events such as UND football spring games.
"The thing I pull away from my time at UND is the huge support system that I had up there and that is still up there," Kuper said.
Danny Freund, a former standout quarterback and current assistant UND football coach in charge of wide receivers, remembers Kuper as a natural leader and an exceptional athlete during his time at UND.
"He would always be throwing the football around before practice and could spin it better than most of the quarterbacks," Freund said. "He was a tough football player, both mentally and physically. The whole team enjoyed being around 'Kupe' because he treated everyone with respect and has a great personality.
"I remember my freshman year he would take the time to get to know me and hang out off the field. That is something that sticks with me because I tried to do the same thing when I was an upperclassman."
On Sunday, Kuper became only the fifth former UND football player to be on a Super Bowl roster, joining Dave Osborn (Minnesota Vikings in 1970, 1974 and 1975), Errol Mann (Oakland Raiders in 1977), Jim LeClair (Cincinnati Bengals in 1982) and Monte Smith (Denver Broncos in 1990) to make that short list. However, with his team's loss, Kuper couldn't join Mann as the only former UND players to win a Super Bowl.
Out of high school, Kuper had offers to play college football at UND, Western Washington and a walk-on opportunity with the University of Oregon. After seeing the UND campus and what the school and football program had to offer, it was an easy choice, Kuper said.
"I had a great visit and I was impressed with the people I met there, many of whom are my best friends and are still there today," he said.
Kuper has enjoyed being part of successful organizations at all levels of his football career. He was a state champion in Alaska at A.J. Dimond High School, his first year at UND saw his team win its first ever national championship and he enjoyed a number of strong NCAA playoff runs in subsequent years, and now he finds himself on a Denver Broncos team that was poised to stand alone atop the football world.
It's an incredible accomplishment for Kuper and his teammates, even if he didn't get to actually play In the big game.
"I'm excited," Kuper said. "There are thousands and thousands of players that never even get the opportunity to be here. I am one of blessed few."