For some reason, standing on top of the football world caused Del Rodgers to reflect back to when he wasn't.
"I remember when I was at Utah, just starting out," said the San Francisco 49er kick returner as he celebrated his team's 20-16 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII here Sunday. "I was sixth string. I was behind everybody in the school. I was the backup to the backups. Did anybody think I'd get here? Did I think I'd get here? "It's a fantastic feeling," Rodgers went on. "I know it's a cliche, but words can't explain it. When you start playing football, your first dream is to try and earn a scholarship to college. Then it's to be drafted by the pros. Then it's to maybe play in a Super Bowl. And then it's to win a Super Bowl."Rodgers, who went from sixth string to first string as a Ute before starting out as a pro with the Green Bay Packers, was hired as a free agent this year by the 49ers. He was used Sunday on special teams and kickoff returns. He had three returns for 53 yards, with a long gain of 22 yards.
"I contributed," he said. "I feel fortunate I was able to be a factor."
On his second kickoff return, late in the third quarter, he was grabbed by the face mask by Daryl Smith of the Cincinnati Bengals. The penalty gave the 49ers 15 extra yards of field position but gave Rodgers a slight concussion. He was held out for the rest of the quarter - a move that almost cost the 49ers the game.
"They had to replace me on kickoff coverage," he said. "That's when their guy (Stanford Jennings of the Bengals) went all the way for the touchdown. He went right up the middle, where I line up. I'd have been there. I feel confident of that."
Rodgers was back in the action for one more kickoff return with 3:10 remaining. His return to the 20-yard line was marred by a clipping penalty, however, and put the 49ers at their own eight-yard line. No matter, from there they embarked on their 92-yard game-winning drive.
Rodgers was joined by ex-BYU players Tom Holmoe and Steve Young and by ex-Weber State defensive back Darryl Pollard as former Utah collegians who won Super Bowl rings Sunday.
Holmoe saw action as the 49ers nickel back, coming in on obvious Cincinnati passing plays. It was his second victorious Super Bowl. He also played for the 1984 49ers who beat the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX.
"All I could think was `endure to the end,' " said Holmoe. "We knew we were in a tough game. We knew Cincinnati was tough. I could feel it from the start. I just kept thinking, `endure, endure.' Our season has been like that. It hasn't been an easy one. But we did hang in there, and things did work out.
"It hasn't hit yet, what all this means. But what a great honor. Not just winning the Super Bowl, but being associated with a winning organization like the 49ers. Every year we're going for it."
Young was the only 49er who did not play in the game. As starting quarterback Joe Montana's backup, he stayed loose and was ready for a call. But the game was tight to the finish, and the call never came.
"No problem," said Young. "I was ready if they needed me."
There was one moment when he thought they would need him.
"It was in the fourth quarter, on the next to last series, and Joe took a hard hit," said Young. "He got pile-driven into the ground. I didn't know if he was going to get up. But by the time I got my helmet on and turned around, he was all right.
"This means a lot," said Young. "To be associated with champions. It's the ultimate in the sport."
For three ex-BYU players who played for Cincinnati, the game's outcome was more sobering. But far from disappointing. Defensive end Jason Buck, linebacker Leon White and punter Lee Johnson all acquitted themselves well despite the defeat.
Buck especially. The second-year pro and former Outland Trophy winner had three unassisted tackles and one of three Bengal sacks.
"I guess personally, I couldn't have played a much better game," said Buck. "And as a whole, our defense played very well. But on that last drive, Montana and Rice just made great plays. You've really got to give them all the credit in the world. There was no letdown on our part. None at all."
Buck chased Montana all night, and went after him with particular abandon on the game-ending and game-winning final 92-yard drive.
He thought he had him. At least three times.
"I tackled him a lot," said Buck. "But every time he'd already released the ball, sometimes on the way down. He gets rid of it so quick, and he has such great presence. We knew that was the challenge going in. It would be hard getting to him."
White, who wasn't used on passing plays and consequently didn't see much playing time on the final crucial drive, was credited with one tackle.
Johnson was the best punter on the field. He punted five times for a 44.6 average _ compared to a 37-yard average in four punts for 49er kicker Barry Helton _ and one time pinned the 49ers on their own three-yard line. Another punt _ this one a 63-yarder in the second quarter _ seemed to have the 49ers also inside the five, but punt returner John Taylor, one of the best in the NFL, manufactured a 45-yard return.
"We all gave this game everything we had," said Buck. "We left our hearts on the field."
The only Bengal with local ties who did not see playing time was third-string quarterback Mike Norseth, who formerly played for Snow College.