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Didier, Howard, von Oelhoffen share Super Bowl memories

Finally, it's game day. All of the waiting, interruptions, insanity of the past two weeks is over, and it's time to play the Super Bowl.

The Herald asked three former NFL players with Mid-Columbia connections what it's like getting ready for the biggest football game there is.

Pasco High School graduate Ron Howard was a backup tight end for the Dallas Cowboys when they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-17 in Super Bowl X in 1976.

Connell grad Clint Didier played tight end for the Washington Redskins in three Super Bowls -- XVII in 1983 (a 27-17 win over the Miami Dolphins), XVIII in 1984 (a 38-9 loss to the Los Angeles Raiders) and XXII (a 42-10 win over the Denver Broncos) in 1988.

Finally, Kimo von Oelhoffen was a defensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL in 2006 (a 21-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks).

For all three, they remember that while there were distractions, they were there to play a game. A big game.

"You're playing for No. 1 in the world," said Howard, now a vice principal in the Seattle school district. "The intensity is at an all-time high, and the whole world is watching."

Back then, the Cowboys were known as America's team. And that season, there was just one week between the NFC Championship and the Super Bowl.

"Because of coach (Tom) Landry, (the distractions) weren't a major issue," Howard said. "They pretty much screened us away from most of that. It was strictly business -- a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday practice. Thursday we'd fine-tune things, Friday put on the final touches, and Saturday review film."

Didier said the Redskins did something similar.

"We didn't implement the game plan all at once," he said. "We'd work on first- to third-down plays for a few days. Then on Thursday, we'd work on red-zone plays. Then the next day, it would be goal-line situations. It was always a little at a time."

All this has to be done while trying to avoid distractions.

"The first thing coach (Joe) Gibbs would tell us was get your ticket situation taken care of," Didier said. "I never had the problem of friends or family wanting tickets. We never had cell phones back then. It was more or less trying to get the family there later in the week, getting them settled into their hotel."

Howard swears each player back then got 20 tickets. But what he cared about most was getting his father to the game.

Von Oelhoffen said each Steeler got four tickets, "but you could buy up to 20. It's up to the organization."

The NFL usually gets most of the media distractions done with a media day early in the week.

"You're told every day, 10 times a day, that distraction is something we have to avoid," von Oelhoffen said. "One thing that's nice is they pick a media day. Get it done, then pick some more slots later in the week for some of the bigger players.

"But to me, that media day is fun. Thousands of reporters come in from all over the world. There are about 10 to 12 jokesters who do things like bloopers. It was a good time. The ultimate thing is to get the information to everyone."

And still, with this circus atmosphere swirling around, it's still possible to lose concentration.

"I think what was key to our loss to the Raiders in XVIII was our players losing focus," Didier said. "The Raiders blocked a punt in our game, for example. The guy responsible for blocking him missed his assignment. This guy was outside our bus in an argument with a shoe company guy trying to get a better deal with the shoe company before the game. We had a heck of a year, then we lose the Super Bowl."

Didier said he's most proud of the 8-yard touchdown pass he caught in XXII from Doug Williams.

"That's the first time a black guy threw a white guy a TD pass in a Super Bowl," he said. "I think it's still the only time. I'm proud of that."

For Howard, he remembers as a young student in Pasco having a student teacher in his class named Ray Mansfield.

Mansfield, a Kennewick High grad, went on to star at the University of Washington before playing center for the Steelers.

So here was Howard, getting to play against Mansfield and the Steelers, in Super Bowl X.

"It was an honor to play against him," Howard said. "It was the most unbelievable moment in my career. It rained all night the night before (in Miami). Steam is coming up off the AstroTurf, and we met each other at the 50-yard line before the game."

Von Oelhoffen said it was a grind getting to the Super Bowl, but at the end of the day, seeing his younger teammates with big smiles on their faces was the best thing for him.

"At this point, you're preparing for the game for all of the guys on the team," he said. "For the coaches, for the equipment guys, for the trainers. You're playing for everybody."