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Wayne Nelson / Forum News Service, Published February 01 2014

Broncos' Kuper hopes to be second former UND player to win Super Bowl

Grand Forks - As a kid growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, and as player at the University of North Dakota a decade ago, Chris Kuper could only imagine what it would be like to experience the Super Bowl as an NFL player.

Reality, however, sets in today, as Kuper and his Denver teammates take on Seattle in Super Bowl XLVII at Met Life Stadium.

Kuper has a chance to become the second ex-UND player to win a Super Bowl ring. Errol Mann was the first when he helped the Oakland Raiders beat Minnesota in the 1977 Super Bowl.

For Kuper, however, the season has been bittersweet. The offensive lineman still is dealing with the effects of a gruesome ankle injury suffered during the 2011 regular-season finale.

He has been working his way back since. It’s been a slow and painful process as the 31-year-old has had two surgeries for his broken ankle – missing most of the past two seasons.

“It’s been hard,” he said. “Basically, I’ve spent the last two years in the training room, trying to get back to full health knowing I probably won’t get back to where I once was.”

Kuper also broke his forearm last year, adding more difficulty to his recovery road.

“It’s been a difficult process,” he said

This season, Kuper played in four games, starting one. He’ll likely be sidelined for today’s game, but it’s expected he’ll suit up.

Outside of cornerback Champ Bailey – Kuper has been with Denver longer than any other player. He’s at the pinnacle of his pro career as the Broncos come into the game as a slight favorite.

“Winning is the goal, not just getting here,” he said.

After his standout career at UND, Kuper was drafted in the fifth round of the 2006 NFL Draft. Quickly, he made his mark with the Broncos.

“It’s been more than I could have dreamed of, for sure,” Kuper said of his career. “As a rookie, I would have been excited to get two or three years out of it. As I started to play and figured out I could play at this level, I had loftier goals.

“I’ve met some of those goals and I’m happy about it.”

The Super Bowl week and the associated hype has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, he said.

“There has been so much coverage,” he said. “The hype is above and beyond what I thought it would be. Everyone is watching us wherever we go. It’s a different feeling. Everyone is here. It’s crazy.”

Kuper will become the fifth ex-UND standout to be part of a Super Bowl team, joining Dave Osborn, Mann, Jim LeClair and Monte Smith. Only Mann has a Super Bowl ring, as he helped the Oakland Raiders beat the Minnesota Vikings in 1977.

Kuper was recruited out of A.J. Dimond High School in Anchorage by former UND coach Chris Mussman. He didn’t have many collegiate offers. UND and Western Washington both offered him a scholarship and Oregon gave him a walk-on offer. But he chose UND.

Kuper was at UND from 2001-05 and considers his collegiate career a special time.

UND’s run to the 2001 national Division II championship and its appearance in the 2003 title game were two of his biggest collegiate highlights, he said.

Kuper said he still follows UND football.

“My best friends in the world are the guys I played college football with,” he said.

Nelson writes for the Grand Forks Herald