Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Tatupu rises in NFL

I am copying the following article in case it gets lost as it is one of the best I have read this year. I am always interested with nfl players with pacific heritage in thise case samoan. The original article can be found here and my post on the samoan influence in the NFL playoffs

With fortitude of his forefathers, Seahawks' Tatupu rises in NFL
The Seattle Times

SEATTLE - Family members watch Lofa Tatupu on the football field and swear they see his grandfather. Genetics blessed both men with thick arms and barrel chests. Kept them low to the ground, thick, squatty, powerful.

The men share stories, too, both of which involve the long road.

Like his grandson, Clarence Garcia shed his share of doubters. Superiors nominated him to officer candidate school five times, but didn't select him for officer training. On the sixth try, after being named an officer in the Marine Corps, Garcia came home and passed on a lesson to his children.

Find a way or make one.

Two decades after his passing, that lesson lives on in his grandson's life.

"They share that kind of mentality," says Linnea Garcia-Tatupu, the bridge between the men, "that kind of perseverance."

Before Lofa Tatupu emerged as a front-runner for defensive rookie of the year, before he took over as the Seahawks' starting middle linebacker, before he won two national championships at USC and a conference championship at Maine, there were doubters. They were there two generations earlier, fueling a family ethos of perseverance.

The Captain's daughter

Linnea Garcia-Tatupu grew up in a military family, the firstborn of seven siblings she says had nothing, really, except each other. And no want or need for anything beyond that.

Capt. Garcia had wanted a boy. So he taught his daughter how to act like one, taught her how to throw footballs and baseballs, how to put a shot and fling a discus, how to box. To this day, football and boxing are her favorite sports.

They were his favorites, too, even after a broken ankle pushed him out of football and into the service, a vocation that moved his family all over the country. While stationed in Hawaii, his firstborn daughter met and married Mosi Tatupu, a man who later made his name in football, the son of a South Pacific middleweight boxing champion.

Garcia loved his daughter's husband as much as he loved football. Just adored him the way fans would later in New England. They called themselves "Mosi's Mooses" and wore funny moose hats that gave a section of the stadium the feel of a hunting lodge.

The last time Linnea saw her father, he wore a moose hat. He walked side by side with Mosi, another powerful and squatty man with a barrel chest. When his back turned, she made out the words ironed onto his red windbreaker. Mosi Tatupu's Father-in-Law.

Garcia died shortly after in 1985. Doctors said it could have been from meningitis. He just went to sleep one day and never woke up.

Linnea recently found a quote over her father's desk that she relayed to her son a couple weeks ago.

It read: He who attempts the impossible has little competition.

Find a way - or make one

Mosi Tatupu carved his legacy in the NFL the same way Garcia carved his in the Marine Corps - by taking every inch. He starred on the most unglamorous of units, special teams, and these days the award for the best special-teams player in college football carries his name in front of it.

It was his version of find-a-way-or-make-one. The same lesson, passed from one generation to the next.

His son, Mosiula Mea'alofa Tatupu, never wanted to be an astronaut or a doctor or anything other than a football player. As a 6-year-old at Patriots games, Lofa told that to everyone within earshot.

"I thought that everybody that wanted to could play in the NFL," Lofa says. "I really believed that."

He knew then what took years for the rest of the organized football to figure out. Before Division I colleges termed Lofa too small and too slow to deserve a scholarship - a tag he carried with him from Maine to USC to the NFL - he was finishing his first pee-wee football game already certain of his destiny.

So what if his mom had to help him put the pads on? Lofa took his helmet off after the game and perched it on his shoulder. He stepped back and placed one hand on his hip.

"Well," he announced, "can I play or what?"

Growing up the son of an NFL player in Plainville, Mass., Lofa says he had "the greatest childhood ever." There were sometimes as many as eight children in the house, nephews and nieces of both parents, Lofa and his sister. Soon enough Lofa became a starting quarterback at King Philip Regional High School.

The football coach there? Mosi Tatupu.

My father, my roommate

John Marshall is Lofa Tatupu's linebackers coach. In another lifetime, in the late `70s, he coached Mosi Tatupu at USC. He sees the father in the son, the same square jaw and piercing eyes and tree-stump neck.

And this: "The same attitude," Marshall says. "The same toughness."

"The same stubbornness," Lofa says.

There were always expectations. Expectations from a father to his son. Expectations from a coach to his star player. Coupled with the dream they shared. Lofa wanted nothing except to play in the NFL, and his father, his coach, spent 14 seasons there, went to two Pro Bowls (once as an alternate).

"Think about it," Lofa says. "Those are some expectations to fulfill."

Taken alone, those expectations would have been enough to strain their relationship. Then Mosi and Linnea separated in 1997 and divorced in 1998, and Linnea moved to San Diego during Lofa's sophomore year of high school.

The money from Mosi's NFL career had long since disappeared, lost in dealings with two agents the family doesn't want to go into detail about. Lofa mentions tax problems. Linnea says, "When you look back and see where people scammed you, quite frankly, that can (tick) you off." The family later fell in love with a third agency, CSMG, which now represents Lofa.

Mosi and Lofa moved from a three-story house to a friend's place, where they shared a bedroom. Their disagreements on the field were magnified at home.

The player wanted his coach to back off, to not raise him off the ground and pin him against the wall after he complained about an assistant coach, to not point out the receiver he missed when he ran for another touchdown.

The son wanted to live with his mother and told both his parents so. She knew better. Knew he wanted to play college football. Knew he needed the experience of his coach and a relationship with his father.

Lofa tried what Linnea calls "the guilt thing." He asked her, "Why didn't you love me enough to take me with you?"

To which she responded, "You need to stop that right now."

Linnea always promised Lofa one thing - truth - and she didn't tolerate complaining. That's Linnea. Tougher than the Golden Gloves boxers she trained. Tough as the Marine who raised her. When Lofa said his feet hurt, she pointed out that he had feet. When he complained about sharing a room with his father, she pointed out that he had a room and a father with which to share it.

"When you have everything you need and most of what you want, you take it for granted," Lofa says. "I did. Our whole family did. I still feel awful about it. Like, how could I have been so blind? But there are times now when I look back and feel blessed."

"He's a football player"

Father and son once shared their blessings solely on a football field. Then the son left for Maine, one of a few places that offered him a scholarship, and their blessings were no longer about the sport they shared. They were about each other, because of what they went through.

The son decided to transfer after one season, and the father put in a word at his alma mater. The son didn't want the charity, but when he went to USC, he looked into the pictures on the wall, and he saw those eyes, his eyes, staring back.

After watching Lofa in his transfer year, an assistant coach pulled him aside and told him, "Your dad was as good a person as he was a football player. You're not going to do anything to ruin your father's name."

Right then, the son realized something.

My dad must have really done something with his life.

And so he set about doing something with his own.

That's why current and former teammates talk about Lofa the same way others talked about his father.

They talk about the football player who has surpassed expectations at every stop.

"He has the best instincts I've ever seen," USC middle linebacker Oscar Lua says.

"This defense feeds off him," Marshall says.

They talk about the man who asked Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren if he would let special teams be introduced instead of the defense before the Seahawks' game against the 49ers.

"He's one of my favorite all-time players," former USC linebackers coach Nick Holt says, "and one of my favorite all-time people."

And they tell his story, the one that mirrors his father's and his grandfather's, the story of perseverance.

"He's been underestimated his whole life," linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski says.

"When there's trouble describing the physical characteristics," Holmgren says, "you'll hear, `But he's a football player.' What does that mean? It means instinct. It means intuition. It means studying and how he prepares."

Lofa likes the sound of that. If only because he's rarely described that way, rarely described any way other than as The Little Engine That Could, too slow and too small and still good enough to ball. His family jokingly refers to him as the Seahawks' Seabiscuit.

That's the one part of his story Lofa doesn't get. That's why, when measured at 5 feet 11 ~ inches at the NFL combine, he begged the guy to list him at 6 feet. That's why, with all due respect, he says, "Can't we be a little bit more creative?"

"Am I Rudy?" Lofa asks. "Is my story really that unbelievable? We're 10-2 (now 12-2). Are you still going to wonder if I belong in the NFL? We're not doing a decathlon. Just watch the football game. I'm keeping up with these track stars pretty well."

Lofa is told his story does have Rudy undertones, that it would make a decent movie. He laughs when he hears this and cracks another joke.

"The good thing about that is whoever plays me, I'm sure (the actor) would be undersized," Lofa says. "But at least it will be on a TV screen, so it will add some weight and height."

Lofa doesn't want to guess which actor would play the role. He will, however, suggest a theme.

Told you so.


Clarence Garcia loved rainbows almost as much as he loved football. He used them as an analogy for life, saying everybody in your life is a rainbow or can help you to produce one.

At a southern California beach house, on the day the Seahawks supposedly gambled by taking Lofa Tatupu in the second round of the NFL draft, Linnea Garcia-Tatupu spotted a tiny cloud in the middle of a clear blue sky.

There was a rainbow running through it.

On that day, Lofa Tatupu saw his dream realized so that his family's life could come full circle.

He used his signing bonus and rookie contract to start replacing the money his family lost. He gave his sister Nea and Mosi money to buy cars. He's helping his mom with medical bills that stem from a recent thyroid issue. He even helped her quit her job after bosses quarreled over her use of personal time to help him settle in Seattle.

He has become the man Linnea expected all along. Man enough to still reach for his mother's hand during car rides. Man enough to admit he needed his father more than he once thought.

He's doing what Linnea always said he would. He's playing marbles with the universe (her term) and proving doubters wrong. Like his father before him and his grandfather before that.

His real story is about perseverance, about attitude, about three men and the strongest woman any of them ever met.

A lesson passed from generation to generation.

A family that finds a way or makes one.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love reading the stories about Lofa. He has come so far in his career and has been lucky to have so much help from family and friends. They should do a story about him and his girlfriend. It's a good one and really interesting. If only all football players were as genuine as him!

11:59 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful men : thoughtful, generous and considerate character.

I wish more people who become so popular would be as humble.

Thank you for making my daughter and I feel Super!

Annmarie, Plainville, MA

4:44 pm  

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