One of the first decorations Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien ever had displayed in his bedroom at home in Spokane was a picture of his uncle, Washington State great Mark Rypien, standing alongside Indianapolis Colts All-Pro quarterback Peyton Manning.
Rypien, who played for WSU from 1982-85, was drafted by the NFL’s Washington franchise in the sixth round of the 1986 NFL Draft. He ultimately led his team to a Super Bowl championship in 1992 and was named MVP of Super Bowl XXVI.
Brett wasn’t even born until four years after his uncle’s Super Bowl triumph – his dad, Tim Rypien a former pro baseball player, is Mark’s brother – but he grew up following Mark’s NFL career.
The Broncos’ sophomore quarterback remembers watching a Seahawks preseason game live in Seattle at the tail end of his uncle’s career in 2002, when Mark played two preseason games as a Seahawks backup quarterback. Brett went to several WSU games growing up and rooted for the Cougs when he watched their games on TV.
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The most memorable Coug game Brett recalls being at is the 2012 Apple Cup against UW in Pullman, when WSU beat Keith Price and the Huskies 31-28 in overtime.
He wanted me to be a Coug, but he was going to support me wherever I went.
Brett Rypien, Boise State QB, on his uncle Mark
So it was strange for Brett to embark on game preparations with his Boise State team this week and realize that he was going to be playing against the team he grew up rooting for.
“It feels a little bit weird right now. It’s definitely a bit of a different feeling to play the team I grew up watching,” said Brett, who became the Broncos’ starting quarterback three games into his true freshman year in 2015. “My uncle being a Coug, I grew up in that environment, and my mom graduated from there too, so I’ve always grown up watching the Cougs and just being around it all.”
Even though Brett ended up going to college in a city other than Pullman, uncle Mark was and continues to be a huge influence in his life.
“We’re pretty close. That’s how I got into football,” Brett said. “Watching some of my uncle’s highlights when I was really little, about three to four years old. He’s been there for me at every level I’ve played at, and it’s nice having a guy who understands because he’s been there at so many levels.
“He was really supportive of me throughout the entire (recruiting) process. He wanted me to be a Coug, but he was going to support me wherever I went.”
I hope Brett plays well, but our Washington State Cougs are coming down there to smack the Boise State Broncos. You know what blood I bleed.
Mark Rypien, ex-WSU QB and MVP of Super Bowl XXVI
Like his uncle and father before him, Brett attended Spokane’s Shadle Park High, where he played baseball and football and set a string of passing records, becoming the state’s career passing yardage leader (13,044 yards) and throwing 134 touchdowns.
Those are the kind of video game numbers that would have worked perfectly in the Cougars’ Air Raid offense -- which was similar to the offense Brett ran in high school -- and WSU head coach Mike Leach and former assistant David Yost recruited Rypien hard. WSU was the first school to offer Rypien a scholarship, and the Cougars were one of three schools (along with UW and Boise State) on the quarterback’s final list in 2014.
But Rypien picked Boise State over WSU because he wanted a change of scenery in more ways than one.
“Boise State was a better fit for me, and obviously I’m happy with my decision,” Rypien said, adding that he liked that the city of Boise felt similar to his hometown of Spokane. “At the end of the day, I wanted to try something different, and Boise State runs a multiple, pro style offense that was a better fit for me.”
Rypien shakes off any suggestion that he might have chosen Boise State to get away from his uncle’s legacy at WSU, though he does concede that during his high school career at Shadle Park, he sometimes felt the pressure to live up to the expectations that came with his last name.
“With my uncle and dad being standout athletes, there were always some expectations,” Rypien said. “But one thing my dad and uncle were big on with me growing up was to say, ‘Pressure is just another chance to prove yourself.’
“I don’t feel it anymore. I’m just being my own player now.”
Besides, as Rypien quipped good-naturedly in an interview with Boise media earlier this week, choosing Boise State over WSU “definitely helped me climb out of his shadow and into Kellen Moore’s shadow.”
He’ll spend the next three years chasing the records Prosser native Moore set at Boise State from 2007-11, but “there would have been a lot more comparisons made with my uncle if I’d gone to Washington State,” Rypien said.
Mark Rypien was unavailable for comment this week because he’s in Bermuda participating in a Pro-Am golf tournament, but back in February, he told ESPN’s Boise radio affiliate that he’d be rooting for the Cougs this weekend.
“I’m going to be going for Washington State,” Mark Rypien said in that radio interview. “I hope Brett plays well, but our Washington State Cougs are coming down there to smack the Boise State Broncos. You know what blood I bleed.”