Bill Kwon

Sports Watch

By Bill Kwon

Friday, May 7, 1999

Being a solid
citizen was Tuinei’s
greatest feat

WE can deal with it when great athletes retire. What, however, can you say when an athlete's life is tragically cut short?

Someone who was a robust 6-foot-5, 315 pounds as Mark Tuinei was. He was out of the NFL for one season, but he still could have played left tackle for the Dallas Cowboys, if it weren't for a torn-up knee.

My first reaction when told of Tuinei's sudden death early yesterday morning was, "You've got to be kidding." Only to realize that no one kids about such matters.

Pardon me, but words escape me right now. Not that words would do anyway. So let me share a few of my remembrances of the Mark Tuinei I've come to know and admire so greatly over the years.

I first met Mark because of his brother Tom, who was the Star-Bulletin's football player of the year at Waianae.

Mark greatly admired his older brother and the feeling was mutual. "He's going to be better than me," said Tom, who played for the Hawaii Rainbows and Detroit Lions.

Mark eventually wound up in a Rainbow uniform, although he took a circuitous and, often trouble-ridden path.

THE Tuinei brothers grew up in a rugged neighborhood on the Waianae Coast, and they had more than their share of run-ins with authority.

After starring at Punahou, Mark went to UCLA, where he became persona non grata after a dormitory brawl. He was defending a friend, he explained.

It was no different when he transferred to UH, as he was suspended because of an assault that led to three months in prison. His story could have ended there. Thankfully, it didn't.

I remember telling him, "Mark, you've got too much talent to be wasting it like this."

"I know, Mr. Kwon," he replied. Then he came under the influence of an ROTC instructor at UH, Col. Billy Olds. Tuinei introduced Olds to his Cowboy teammates as "the man who turned around my life."

And what a remarkable turnaround it had been for Tuinei. He was no longer "Trouble" with a capital "T." Marrying Pono Pavich completed Tuinei's transition into a gentle giant who always had a smile for everyone.

He went on to a remarkable 15-year NFL career -- all with the Cowboys. Not bad for someone who signed as a free agent out of Hawaii in 1983.

TUINEI shares the club record for longevity with Bill Bates and Ed "Too Tall" Jones, but he had the distinction of playing in more games on offense than any player in Dallas history.

Two of his proudest moments came in 1995 and 1996, and I will always remember them as if they happened yesterday.

In 1995, he played in his first Pro Bowl before hometown fans and friends. Among those in the sellout crowd at Aloha Stadium was his brother Tom, who was granted a pass out of prison.

The following year, Tuinei got his third Super Bowl ring in Tempe, Ariz., when the Cowboys defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-17. What made it even more special, he said after the game, was that his entire family -- Pono, mom Ann, brother Tom (no longer in jail) and his three sisters -- got to see him play.

Tuinei turned out to be one of the first Cowboys that Dallas sportswriters sought for a good quote or two, whether the team won or lost. He was noted for his ever-present smile and mischievous pranks.

Considering how he could have taken the wrong turn in life, Tuinei wound up becoming, remarkably, a good role model.

That, to me, and not that he was a 12-year fixture at left tackle for the Dallas Cowboys, is what I'll always remember about Mark Tuinei.

Bill Kwon has been writing
about sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1959.

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