Gouveia a sudden celluloid sensation Redskins bargain LB is highlights hero

September 17, 1992|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

ASHBURN, Va. -- When middle linebacker Kurt Gouveia watched the highlights of the Washington Redskins' 24-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on television last Sunday night, he was impressed with the way No. 54 made two game-saving plays at the end of the game.

"I said, 'That is not me. That can't be me. That's the guy in [uniform] No. 54.' You never see yourself doing all that kind of [star] stuff. You dream about it," he said.

Gouveia had trouble believing it, but he, indeed, was No. 54.

With the Falcons on the Washington 9-yard line and about four minutes left in the game, he knocked down a second-down pass intended for Mike Pritchard and then intercepted a third-down pass intended for Andre Rison.

For Gouveia, after six seasons of toiling in obscurity, his dreams were being fulfilled.

As reporters crowded around him in the Redskins' locker room yesterday, he said, "I'm overwhelmed. You never talked to me [before]."

He has a story of triumph and tragedy to tell.

He's a native of Hawaii and the roof of his parents' house on the island of Oahu was blown off in the hurricane last week, although his parents were not injured.

The Gouveia family, though, is no stranger to tragedy.

When he was 10 years old, his family was in a car that was hit by a drunken driver. His brother was killed and Gouveia's right arm was 85 percent severed below the elbow. The doctors suggested an amputation, but his father, Walter, knowing his son had athletic dreams, refused to allow it.

The memories are still tough for Gouveia to live with.

"It's always behind my head. It was a tough deal," said Gouveia, who works with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

Gouveia's arm was saved, and so was his athletic career. He became a good football player even though Brigham Young was the only college to offer him a scholarship. As an eighth-round draft choice, he has beaten the odds to remain with the Redskins.

And, though the Mark Rypiens and the Wilber Marshalls get the attention and the big money, Gouveia may better symbolize why the Redskins have been so successful the past decade.

He's an untiring special teams player -- the one assistant coach Wayne Sevier calls upon to block the opponents' best players -- and before he became a starter, he would come in on the second-down package on assistant coach Richie Petitbon's complicated schemes.

"We really liked him all along. It's just been a strange thing. He could play so many positions that he was valuable as a backup. It was a disservice to him that he wasn't starting all along," Petitbon said.

This year, after Matt Millen retired, Ravin Caldwell was supposed to start. When Caldwell injured his knee, Gouveia vaulted into the starting lineup. All he has done is lead the team with 19 tackles in the first two games and make two game-saving plays.

"I always felt like I could play the run. I wanted to earn a starting job," he said.

It turns out he's a real bargain as a starter. He's making $247,500 in his option year, only a bit more than Rypien, who earns $3 million, is paid per game. The average NFL salary is more than $400,000.

Gouveia is one of the players who's been a victim of the legal war between the owners and the players. He has been good enough to be protected on Plan B, but didn't have the leverage of a starter.

As a low-round pick in 1986, he began with a $70,000 base salary, plus a $20,000 signing bonus and a $10,000 roster bonus. In his first six years, he has earned $810,000 in base salary.

By contrast, linebacker Huey Richardson got $1.25 million in signing bonus alone from the Pittsburgh Steelers a year ago.

"When they protect you, you feel good, but you can't leave [for more money]. I don't know how to take it," he said.

Gouveia, though, isn't the complaining type.

"I'm just fortunate to be here," he said.

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