Half a century ago, Nigerian athletes at Harvard, like the legendary Chris Ohiri, played soccer. Now, they’re more likely to strap on a helmet, as defensive lineman Chucks Obi did a few years ago. They are student-athletes, Murphy says, in the best possible context.
The Obukwelu brothers relish the combination.
“Football is my stress relief,” said Obum. “This side of the river, all the mayhem of the day — once you go across, you put all that stuff aside.”
Once he and Nnamdi enter the Stadium, which is a hybrid of a Roman colosseum and a Greek amphitheatre, they get to be happy warriors.
“People tell me, I didn’t know you were so outgoing, I saw you at the football game and you’re dancing around and hitting people,” said Nnamdi. “It’s a completely different atmosphere over here at the Stadium. You get to unwind a little bit, be a little bit more boisterous and not be judged.”
You also get to play alongside your brother, knowing that he has your back when the ball is snapped.
“It’s a blessing,” said Obum, who backs up on the left side while Nnamdi starts on the right. “I know for a fact he’s going to make the play. He’s pretty much unblockable, and I’m trying to be like that one day very soon.”
Nnamdi has decided that he’d like to stick around to see it, so he’ll come back for his extra year of eligibility.
“Once you’re done with football, you’re done with football,” he said. “You can’t come back and do it again. Also, being in college is fun. Iffi says, ‘They’re kicking my butt out here. Stay in college as long as you can and enjoy yourself. No worries. Just take exams and play football.’
“Also, I love my teammates. The camaraderie we have, the atmosphere in the locker room, you can’t replicate that anywhere else.”
While brother acts aren’t uncommon at Harvard, Murphy never had three play for him.
“What about Mukky?” a friend asked him. “There’s a Mukky?” a startled Murphy replied. Mukky Obukwelu is only 12 but he’s 5-7, 214 and growing — and doing his homework at the table.
John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.