UW’s Top 50 football players: No. 41
LARAMIE -- During this summer series we are going to countdown the Top 50 football players in Wyoming history, presented by Premier Bone & Joint Centers, Worthy of Wyoming.
The rules are simple: What was the player's impact while in Laramie? That means NFL stats, draft status or any other accolade earned outside of UW is irrelevant when it comes to this list.
This isn't a one-man job. This task called for a panel of experts. Joining me is Robert Gagliardi, Jared Newland, Ryan Thorburn and Kevin McKinney. We all compiled our own list of 50 and let computer averages do the work. Think BCS -- only we hope this catalog is more fair.
Don't agree with a selection? Feel free to sound off on our Twitter page @7220sports.
Safety/ cornerback, 1972-75, Detroit, Michigan
Here's why: Are we having a run on safeties or what?
Is Aaron Kyle the safety of the 70's? Tom Landry sure thought so, snagging the Detroit product in the first round of the 1976 NFL Draft, making Kyle just the third Wyoming Cowboy ever to be taken that high, joining Ron "Pedro" Billingsley (1st round, No. 14, 1967) and Lawrence Gaines (1st round, No. 16, 1976).
As you surely know by now, NFL stats and draft status mean nothing when it comes to this list. Plus, we can use that parameter to spare Broncos fans memories of Kyle picking off Craig Morton late in the first quarter of Super Bowl XII en route to a 27-10 Dallas Victory.
Before all that, Kyle was earning All-Western Athletic Conference First-Team honors as a senior in Laramie. Kyle's college Cowboys suffered through four straight losing seasons, winning just 12 games overall. One of those, however, was a stunning 45-43 victory over No. 11 Arizona State during the 1972 season.
Twice Kyle led the team in unassisted tackles and total defensive points.
Despite limited success as a team, Kyle racked up 275 tackles, then a program record. Most of that damage came from the safety spot, though new head coach Fred Akers moved Kyle to the cornerback position during his senior campaign.
Kyle wasn't just known for his play in the Cowboys' secondary either. Twice he led the team in punt returns and return yardage.
Kyle earned enshrinement into the UW Athletics Hall of Fame in 2016. And if you're wondering, after his four-year stint in Dallas, Kyle did play three seasons for the Denver Broncos. He led the team in turnovers (five interceptions, seven fumble recoveries) in 1981 and '82.
That doesn't make up for a Super Bowl loss, but it helps.
McKinney's take: Coach Fred Akers said unequivocally that Aaron Kyle, “could play defensive back for anyone in the country. He is as good as I’ve ever seen.”
That’s pretty high praise from a coach who had been at Texas prior to becoming the head coach at Wyoming. And so he was. He was a “shutdown” corner before there were shutdowns. In my mind he was a “can’t miss” the first time I saw him play.
He was an All-Western Athletic Conference performer and an All-American candidate for the Pokes. As a junior and a senior he led the entire defensive unit in defensive points -- as a cornerback!
In his total for the season, he produced a blocked kick, three pass interceptions, four fumble recoveries, 55 unassisted tackles. While catching his breath, he returned 14 punts.
Akers said, “He does something great every time he takes the field."
Kyle began as a safety for the Pokes and was shifted to cornerback his senior year. Following his senior season, his honors included playing in the Blue-Gray Football Classic, the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game. He was drafted in the first round by the Dallas Cowboys, only the third Wyoming player, at that time, ever to be drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft.
He replaced Hall of Famer Mel Renfro in the Dallas secondary. He helped the Cowboys win Super Bowl XII with three tackles an interception and a fumble recovery that set up Dallas’ game-clinching touchdown.
He is considered one of Wyoming’s great defensive players of all time.
How the panel voted: Cody Tucker (37), Robert Gagliardi (NR), Jared Newland (NR), Ryan Thorburn (46), Kevin McKinney (18)
Cody Tucker: Brand Manger and creator of 7220sports.com. Tucker has covered the Cowboys since June of 2019, but was a season-ticket holder for nearly three decades. Tucker has also covered Michigan State University Athletics for the Lansing State Journal and Detroit Free Press and the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins during his 10-year journalism career
Robert Gagliardi: Former sports editor and University of Wyoming beat reporter for WyoSports. Gagliardi covered the Cowboys from more than a quarter century. He also covered the team at the Branding Iron, the UW student newspaper. Gagliardi also co-authored the book: The Border War: The Bronze Boot Rivalry Between Colorado State and Wyoming
Jared Newland: Currently the local sales manager for Townsquare Media SE Wyoming, Newland worked with and around Wyoming athletics for 20 years, starting as a student athletic trainer in 1990. Newland has also served in the Sports Information Office, the Cowboy Joe Club, Wyoming Sports Properties and was a UW Athletics Hall of Fame Committee Member from 2002-14.
Ryan Thorburn: Currently covering the Oregon Ducks for The Register-Guard, Thorburn also covered the Cowboys in the early and mid-90's for the Branding Iron and Casper Star Tribune. He has also written four books about Wyoming Athletics: The Border War: The Bronze Boot Rivalry Between Colorado State and Wyoming, Cowboy Up: Kenny Sailors, The Jump Shot and Wyoming’s Championship Basketball History, Lost Cowboys: The Story of Bud Daniel and Wyoming Baseball and Black 14: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Wyoming Football
Kevin McKinney: Currently the senior associate athletics director for external affairs at the University of Wyoming, McKinney also serves as the radio color commentator for Wyoming football and men's basketball. McKinney has been involved with UW Athletics in some capacity since 1972. He was also inducted into the Wyoming Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2015.