At 28, Christian Okoye still calls his father, who lives seven time zones away in Enugu, Nigeria, for advice. "He is a very wise man who knows what is right," says Okoye, the extraordinary third-year running back for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Once a month Okoye writes his family to describe his life in America. "It is a country with very many opportunities, but those opportunities are often misused," he says in a clipped, British-sounding accent. "I would say to each American, 'If you can, go to Africa. There, people live life. They appreciate life every day.' "
Okoye is engaged to his college sweetheart, Lauren Brown, who is a 21-year-old senior at Azusa Pacific University, in California. As a devout Christian, Okoye is adamantly opposed to premarital sex. When Brown visits him in Kansas City, he says, they stay in separate rooms in his apartment. "That is really the way it should be," he says. "We are not married yet."
After gaining 148 yards on 32 carries in the Chiefs' 26-21 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, Okoye was vying for the league lead in rushes (288) and rushing yards (1,191). But his 1989 wages—$215,000—amount to about one-seventh of the salary of the Indianapolis Colts' Eric Dickerson. Okoye doesn't complain. "Being too rich can be a problem," he says. "Man does not live by money alone. If you can eat and raise children and live comfortably and give help to people who need it, that is good."
Is this guy's act for real?
"It's real," says K.C. quarterback Ron Jaworski, a 15-year veteran who is on injured reserve. "I guarantee it's real. He's such a good guy. We just love him." Kansas City tackle Irv Eatman calls Okoye "the most humble superstar I've ever seen."
Okoye seems too good to be true on the field as well. Six years after he first touched a football, as a sophomore at Azusa Pacific, an NAIA school where he had enrolled with a partial scholarship as a track and field athlete, Okoye has become the most dangerous runner in the NFL. To understand why, consider these two factors:
1) He weighs as much (260 pounds) as Chiefs center Mike Webster.
2) He runs as fast (a 4.48 40) as San Francisco 49er wide receiver Jerry Rice.
Also consider that this season Okoye has been relatively injury-free—except for a nagging thigh bruise, which caused him to miss a critical game against the Denver Broncos in Week 10—after sitting out seven games in 1988 because of various thumb, back and hand injuries. In his first two seasons he gained a total of 1,133 yards.