This Sunday Kurt Gouveia will play in his second Super Bowl in six years as a professional football player, which isn't a bad average for a player who is yet to enjoy the privilege of choosing who he's going to play for.

A little-known linebacker out of Waianae High School in Hawaii, Gouveia had only one college offer, from Brigham Young, and only one professional offer, from the Washington Redskins.As history has duly noted, he has made the most of both offers. At BYU he was an integral part of the Cougars' national championship season in 1984. And at Washington he helped the Redskins to the NFL championship in their 1988 Super Bowl triumph over the Denver Broncos, and now he's helped get them into Sunday's Super Bowl showdown with the Buffalo Bills.

Both the Cougars and Redskins, acting independently and, as it turned out, quite alone, saw the same thing in Gouveia - an instinctive quality of reacting quickly to what was happening on the football field; and often to what was about to happen.

"He wasn't fast and he wasn't big," said BYU head coach LaVell Edwards, who remembers wondering at first why assistant coach Norm Chow was touting Gouveia as a high school recruit back in 1981. "But then I watched him play. He had all the innate characteristics. You could throw the stop watch and the tape measure away. He had such great anticipation and quickness."

On more than one occasion, Edwards, not one for superlatives, said Gouveia was the best football player BYU ever put on the field.

Which is why Edwards was baffled when Gouveia wasn't a hot pro prospect after his senior season in 1985. Other Cougar defenders, basking in the glow of the '84 title, caught the attention of the NFL. Players like Leon White and Shawn Knight and Jason Buck, all teammates of Gouveia's. But when the national scouting combine sent out invitations for its 1986 show-and-tell spring camp in Indianapolis, Gouveia wasn't on the list.

Only the Washington Redskins were interested, and from a distance at that. General Manager Charley Casserly scouted Gouveia during his senior season and was impressed enough to keep him a secret.

"I've been scouting since 1977 and I'm not one to exaggerate," Casserly told the Washington Post. "But I stand by my statement that he was almost as good a college linebacker as Hugh Green, who was the best one I ever scouted."

Larry Peccatiello, the Redskins' defensive coordinator who ultimately okayed the team's selection of Gouveia in the eighth round of the 1986 college draft, told the Post, "I felt that after looking at the films, Kurt was the best football player of the (BYU) bunch. As far as actually going out and making the plays, doing the job, winning the one-on-one confrontations, I thought he was a real good football player. And their defensive coach Dick Felt told me, 'He's my best football player.' "

So the Redskins took a chance on a sleeper, and they've lived to gloat about it.

Gouveia was just coming into his own as a second-year player when the Redskins played in the San Diego Super Bowl in 1988. He played mostly on special teams in that game. The next season he again played special teams mainly, and only sparingly at linebacker. But by the 1989 season he turned into a sometimes starter at linebacker and by the 1990 and 1991 seasons he found his niche as Washington's designated pass-ruiner.

Gouveia has become the linebacker the Redskins call on when the opposing team is prone to pass, or use a lot of play-action offense. During the 1991 regular season, while listed officially as a backup to veteran Matt Millen at middle linebacker, Gouveia virtually shared time with Millen, playing often on second down plays and a majority of the time on third down plays.

For Sunday's Super Bowl game against the no-huddle Buffalo Bills, Gouveia is expected to play considerably more than Millen, and he may start the game.

Gouveia couldn't care less if he starts, or if he's listed as the starter. "It used to be something that mattered," he said Wednesday before the Redskins' practice. "But now that I understand the Redskins' platoon system I just feel fortunate I fit in somewhere. They use the best athletes for the situation. That's their system. That's what I'm a part of."

Gouveia said this Super Bowl means more to him than his first one because of his more prominent role.

"This one is very important to me personally," he said, "because a lot of how well we do depends on how I play. When I played the first time, it was my second year and I was just happy to be there. Now I have a role and it's important."

Whether he plays the majority of the game, as speculated, will be decided by the Bills and how they employ their offense, he said.

"It depends on what they do to us and what we decide to do to them," he said. "Matt Millen is a rugged, rough, run-oriented type of a linebacker. Me, I'm more of a dropback, read routes, finesse type of a linebacker. I'll probably play a lot against Buffalo, yeah, but you never really know for sure."

All Gouveia knows for sure is where he's been, not where he's going. Of his BYU roots, he says they have a lot to do with where he is now.

"Nobody else was asking so I had to choose BYU. The University of Hawaii didn't even talk to me," he said, laughing as he remembered the furor he didn't cause among college recruiters when he was a high school senior.

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"When I got to Provo it was hard at first. I'm not a Mormon and I had to get used to a whole different way of living. I was real wild in high school and I was at a place where they don't smoke, they don't drink, and they hold down their parties.

"It settled me down, which was good for me. It was hard, but it was good."

The experience had such a positive effect on Gouveia that he has established a scholarship that he gives every year to a senior athlete at his alma mater, Waianea High School, with the stipulation that the scholarship must be used at a university on the mainland.

"My purpose is I want the student to experience what I experienced as a 17-year-old when I left my parents and had to learn things on my own," he said. "I think being put in a situation like that, one that you wouldn't necessarily choose on your own, can be a very beneficial thing."

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