NFL SUPER BOWL XL
Molokai's Kimo von Oelhoffen has spent 12 years in the NFL, six with the Bengals and six with the Steelers.
Kimo von Steeler
The 12-year veteran from Molokai is finally in the Super Bowl
LIKE his name, many other elements of Kimo von Oelhoffen's life are contradictions.
He almost never watches football on TV. But he loves the game.
He didn't play it at all at Molokai High School, which still doesn't have a team. But, more than 15 years later, he's a solid pro getting better with age.
Von Oelhoffen is considered one of the NFL's gentle giants ... although a few people -- mostly Bengals fans -- still insist his knee-crunching hit on Cincinnati's Carson Palmer in the playoffs last month was a dirty play.
SUPER BOWL XL
Pittsburgh vs. Seattle
Kickoff: 1:25 p.m. Hawaii time
Radio: KKEA 1420-AM
He starts at defensive end for the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL on Sunday in Detroit. But he lives in Kennewick, Wash., where he owns a restaurant called Kimo's Sports Deli.
"I think I've converted a lot of Washingtonians to Pittsburghers," von Oelhoffen said yesterday at Super Bowl media day. "(But) there will be some Seahawks stuff (on the walls). It's not just Steelers."
Jason Mokuiki, whose father is from Kona, is a bartender at Kimo's. He said the Terrible Towels will be flying Sunday in the Tri-Cities.
"This is still Seahawks country," Mokuiki said in a phone interview this week. "But Kimo has earned a lot of dedicated fans around here."
During the season, the time difference often creates a buffer zone at Kimo's. Steelers fans dominate the establishment early in the day when Pittsburgh plays back East. Later, the Seahawks fans take over to watch the home team in the West.
In the offseason, von Oelhoffen stops by two or three times a week, Mokuiki said.
"He's just quiet and sits in the corner, but he's always willing to sign autographs or talk to customers," Mokuiki said. "You wouldn't know he's a pro athlete. He's such a down-to-earth guy."
Sometimes, really down to earth. Von Oelhoffen works in the trenches even in the offseason. He has interest in a development company in the area, and he likes to do the excavation work himself.
How did a kid from Kaunakakai end up in Kennewick?
Since Molokai didn't have a football team, von Oelhoffen played volleyball and basketball for the Farmers. Hawaii high school sports fans might remember him getting rebounds as Molokai teammate Jarinn Akana scored his way to state player of the year honors in the 1989 state tournament.
But with no market for 6-foot-4 centers in college, von Oelhoffen decided to try football at the University of Hawaii.
"I kind of always wanted to play," von Oelhoffen said in Detroit yesterday. "I saw a lot of the guys that came in with my class and I played basketball and volleyball with them and I could play with them. I gave (football) a shot and fell in love with the game."
He was raw, but teammates could see the untapped ability.
"Even though he came in on scholarship, no one really expected anything from him," teammate Doug Vaioleti said. "But the guy was explosive and athletic. I remember Larry Jones (another former UH lineman) said, 'That guy Scooby, he's got some wheels.' Nobody called him Kimo then."
But Scooby scooted. Von Oelhoffen transferred from UH after unsuccessfully trying to please coaches on both sides of the line. He left with his girlfriend and future wife, Wahine basketball player Tondi Redden, for her home state of Washington.
"She's a high school sports legend here," said Evan Hudspeth, general manager of Kimo's. "A hard-nosed competitor, but nice person. Like her husband."
Von Oelhoffen enrolled at Walla Walla Junior College. It was his first time out of Hawaii.
"I went to Walla Walla with two pairs of shorts, a shirt and a couple slippers, not even shoes," he said.
In 1992, von Oelhoffen went to Boise State, where he spent two injury-plagued seasons. But he built up his strength and was nearing 300 pounds without much loss in quickness by the time of the 1994 NFL Draft.
Again, his potential was spotted and acknowledged -- this time by the Cincinnati Bengals, who drafted him in the sixth round, 162nd overall.
He gradually worked his way into the starting lineup, and made 45 tackles in 1998.
"When I first got to Cincinnati, I was not a good football player," von Oelhoffen said. "I played 12 games in my whole life before I got to Cincinnati. I started 36 games in Cincinnati. Everybody thinks I was there just as a scrub."
In 2000 he was an unrestricted free agent and joined the Steelers. Although he's reached a stage of his career most NFL players never reach, his play has continued to improve.
"I have gotten bigger, faster, stronger and smarter," he said. "Everything."
Since the hit on Palmer, von Oelhoffen has had to answer questions about it continually. He was visibly upset right after the play and expressed sympathy for Palmer in postgame interviews.
But he also said he was doing his job.
"I don't think you can control that," von Oelhoffen said yesterday. "Your job is to tackle the quarterback, hit the quarterback, hit the running back. Big hits. You have to create momentum, create an edge, and that is part of the game, it will always be part of the game. But you never want to see nobody get injured. Ever."
And that leads to more contradictions.
Von Oelhoffen said he likes the martial and strategic aspects of football.
"This is an unreal game, not just physically and mentally, but when you are talking schemes, it's the closest you can get to war in sports," he said.
Not that he'd ever watch a game. Not even the Super Bowl has grabbed his attention in the past.
"I've seen maybe three or four plays, at best," he said. "I don't think I've ever watched a quarter of a football game, other than getting ready to play."
"Priorities," von Oelhoffen said. "I have three daughters, a wife, been married 15 years. That's important.
"When I was young, we had two channels, so we didn't watch much TV. We worked."
Von Oelhoffen turned 35 last Sunday. With 12 years in the NFL, he is fourth on the Steelers in years of service behind punter Chris Gardocki, running back Jerome Bettis and cornerback Willie Williams.
He said he has no desire to retire.
"I will play until they tell me I am not good enough," he said. "As far as the body, that is yet to be seen, but I am fine."
Until then, he'll continue to play for all his family and friends in Kaunakakai and Kennewick.
And Pittsburgh. And Honolulu. And Walla Walla. And Boise.
"I represent everybody," von Oelhoffen said.
DURABLE AND DEPENDABLE
Kimo von Oelhoffen has missed just one regular-season game since 1998