Fresh on the heels of the '88 Summer Olympic Games, where Utahns were running rampant on the streets of Seoul, comes Super Bowl XXIII to wrap up the National Football League's 1988 season - and here, too, everywhere you look there are people in the Big Game with Utah credentials.
Of the 90 players who will suit up for the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals in Sunday's game in Joe Robbie Stadium, eight played their college ball for a Utah institution of higher gridiron learning. And of the 22 coaches who will roam the two sidelines, three formerly worked, or played, in Utah.
It is the most sizeable Super Bowl Utah connection in Super Bowl history; and not only is it a flattering compliment to the caliber of college football in the Beehive state, it also marks the beginning of bragging rights for two schools heretofore shut out of a relationship to football's superest game.
No longer will Snow College or Weber State College have to hem and haw when the subject of the Super Bowl comes up.
Each school is represented in the XXIIIrd edition.> Cincinnati backup quarterback Mike Norseth played at Snow, while San Francisco backup cornerback Darryl Pollard played at Weber State.
They are believed to be the first from their alma maters to come this close to winning rings.
Utah and BYU are also represented in the game, as is, in case this passed you by, Westminster College of Salt lake City. Utah State is shut out this year, but only after being well represented in both of the past two Super Bowls by defensive starters Rulon Jones and Greg Kragen vor the Denver Broncos.
At any rate, it all makes for quite a Utah connection in Miami's Super Bowl. The official flower for this Super Bowl ought to be the Sego Lily.
Here's the lineup. Starting alphabetically, with the Bengals:
JASON BUCK, defensive end: Buck, of course, was the Outland Trophy winner while with BYU, where he graduated in 1986. Buck will start at right end for the Bengals, opposing 49ers tackle Steve Wallace. He is in his second year of pro ball, and first as a full-time starter. Buck still lives in St. Anthony, Idaho. He figures to get more TV exposure this Sunday than any other Utahn. His ability, or lack thereof, to get to 49er quarterback Joe Montana will be a key talking point up in the booth.
LEE JOHNSON, punter: The former BYU All-America who helped the Cougars to their national championship in 1984 is coming off a particularly fine performance in the Bengals; AFC championship win over the Buffalo Bills. He continually kept the Bills pinned down deep in their own territory.
Johnson is with his fourth team in four NFL years. That has not only made him humble but, he says, a whole lot tougher. "It's helped me realize I can deal with problems," he said here Tuesday. "You name it. Weather. New faces. New cities. I've seen it. I've tried out for everybody. Kicking for another new coach is like kicking for one of my buddies now. It doesn't bother me a bit."
Johnson's strategy for Sunday's game: "Kick very little this week and stay as fresh as possible. If you're fresh it can be like in golf, when you lay off a few days and then play and you've never hit it so well. I want to be fresh Sunday."
MIKE NORSETH, quarterback: As the Bengals' third string QB behind Boomer Eiason and Turk Schonert, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Norseth isn't likely to see much playing time, except with a mop. Still, he says, "It's a thrill just to be here." Norseth's duties during the week are to imitate Joe Montana and the 49er passing schemes in practice.
Mike still has a lot of good friends in the Ephraim area around the Snow College campus, including his in-laws (he married the former Toni Holman of Manti). He also has a lot of friends in Lawrence, Kansas, where he played his major college football at the University of Kansas.
LEON WHITE, outside linebacker: BYU's popular linebacker, Class of 1985, became a surprising, and surprised, starter for the first game of the Bengals' regular season when longtime veteran Emanuel King was suspended for 30 days because of a substance abuse problem. The coaches told White the job was his to lose, and he has yet to lose it.
With 13-year veteran Reggie Williams manning the other outside 'backer position for the Bengals, White is often the forgotten starter. "I'd guess maybe 500 people in America know I'll be starting in the Super Bowl," he joked this week. "Compared to maybe five million who know Boomer Esiason will be starting."
The 49ers include:
TOM HOLMOE, free safety: In his fifth year, Holmoe epitomizes what a strong work ethic can accomplish. The 1982 BYU graduate made the 49ers as a fourth round draft choice in 1983 and has hung on since, despite playing behind first Dwight Hicks and then (and now) Ronnie Lott, both perennial All-Pros.
Already a veteran of one Super Bowl victory, Holmoe's performance as a 49er nickel back against the Miami Dolphins in SB XX included five tackles. "It was the biggest athletic thrill of my life," he says of that game three years ago. "To actually be out there on the field at the end, knowing that you're champions of the world. That was some feeling."
Holmoe figures to play on all nickel back (passing) formations for the 49ers in Sunday's game, which could include a majority of the Bengals' first downs. But it's unlikely he'll see 60 or 70 percent playing time. as he did against the Dolphins in '85, unless the 49ers get a big lead early.
DARRYL POLLARD, right cornerback: The pride of Weber State should see plenty of special teams playing time, although not a lot at the corner, where he will back up both Eric Wright and Don Griffin. A second year pro, Pollard was released twice this past August by the 49ers before he finally stuck. "I could have quit a lot of times," he said here this week. "But I don't believe in quitting. I know I can play at this level."
Pollard, a native of Colorado Springs, came to Weber from junior college as a smallish running back. He was transformed into a defensive back and proceeded to put on nearly 25 pounds in Ogden, subsisting on a diet of "plenty of potatoes and bread." He now weighs 187 pounds.
He said it wasn't necessarily easy coming from a Div. I-AA program to the NFL. "They wonder if you've had the right kind of experience," he said. "So you have to stick with it, and not take it personal."
DEL RODGERS, running back, kickoff returns: Rodgers, whose University of Utah nickname "Popcorn" doesn't appear to be in Bay Area vogue, was signed as a free agent this year by the 49ers, who cut him once during the season, and then re-signed him. His Sunday Super Bowl exposure should be strictly on kickoff returns and on special teams. If Rodgers sees a lot of work (returning Bengals' kickoffs), that won't be a good sign for the 49ers.
One of the most popular Utes of the past decade, Rodgers has become similarly popular in the San Francisco area. After he was cut, a TV station in Salinas, KSBW, hired him as an NFL specialist. He is continuing his sportscasting career at the Super Bowl, conducting interviews on the one hand, and granting them on the other.
STEVE YOUNG, quarterback: An All-America at BYU in 1983, Young continues to wait in Joe Montana's shadow, and remains a heartbeat, or a backache, from the 49ers' starting job. He did start a couple of games in 1988, and remains the heir apparent - if Montana ever retires.
"I might retire myself, around the turn of the century," Young joked with reporters here this week.
The coaches' roster, all with the 49ers, includes:
MIKE HOLMGREN, quarterback coach: Holmgren coached the quarterbacks at BYU from 1982 through 1985, working with Steve Young and Robbie Bosco. The 49ers hired him away from the Cougars in 1985.
GEORGE SEIFERT, defensive coordinator: Seifert played and coached at Utah io the early 1960s and was the head coach at Westminster College in 1965 - when Westminster still had a football program. He then went on to assistant positions at Iowa, Oregon and Stanford and a head coaching job at Cornell before joining Bill Walsh with the 49ers, where he has been for nine years, the last six as the defensive coordinator. If Walsh retires after this season, it's rumored that Seifert is 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo's choice as his successor.
LYNN STILES, special teams: A former All-WAC guard for the University of Utah in 1963, and later a graduate assistant coach with the Utes, Stiles was head coach at San Jose State, where he won two PCAA championships, before moving on to the NFL. He first assisted Dick Vermeil at Philadelphia and has been with the 49ers the past two seasons.