NFL SUPER BOWL
B.J. REYES / BJREYES@STARBULLETIN.COM
Itula Mili spoke to an interviewer Tuesday, Super Bowl media day. The Kahuku graduate has never played in a Super Bowl.
Mili making most of misfortune
The nine-year veteran helps his Seahawks any way he can, but he'd rather return to starting
DETROIT » As most know by now, the Seattle Seahawks are making their first Super Bowl appearance in the 30-year history of the franchise.
Hawaii native Itula Mili has been there for almost a third of that history, so he can appreciate the struggle that it took to get there.
"I've been here through it all -- the ups and downs of the Seattle Seahawks, the promising years, the disappointing years," the former Kahuku star said. "To be a part of this, where we've made it all the way to the Super Bowl and for me to be able to be here, it's a great feeling.
"It's a fulfilling feeling that you have for all that hard work and staying positive."
But this season, his ninth with the Seahawks, has tested Mili's ability to stay positive.
For the record, the only stats the tight end has this year are two special teams tackles and two kickoff returns for 40 yards. He played in only two games -- neither of the Seahawks playoffs victories -- without catching a single pass.
As the Seahawks prepare to play the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL on Sunday, the former Red Raider said he's glad to be in Detroit for the game, but wishes it had been under better circumstances.
"It was a very emotional year for me, to not be able to participate and be a part of this team, especially going all the way to the Super Bowl," Mili said. "I kind of feel part of it, but not part of it."
To call it a disappointing season would be understating things.
Coming off of 46- and 43-catch seasons in 2003 and 2002, Mili's production dropped in 2004, when he caught 23 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown while splitting time with up-and-coming teammate Jerramy Stevens.
For his career, Mili has 153 catches, 1,670 yards and a club-record 13 touchdowns by a tight end, leading to some interest from several other teams as he tested the free-agent waters in the offseason.
But Mili ultimately re-signed with the Seahawks with expectations of regaining his job as the No. 1 tight end.
By the end of training camp, that's exactly where he was.
"We re-signed him to be our starter this year and said that for him to not be a starter, Jerramy would have to beat him out," said Seattle tight ends coach Jim Lind. "Coming out of training camp, it was really close -- Jerramy had really a great training camp and Itula had a good, solid one.
"Itula came out of training camp as our starter."
Heading into 2005, he needed just 15 catches and 15 yards to pass Christian Fauria's franchise marks by a tight end.
But just days before the season opener at Jacksonville, Mili was hospitalized with an intestinal blockage. He sat out the first two weeks of the season and played in only two more games the rest of the way.
"It was from scar tissue from when I was a little kid that causes that kind of stuff," he said of the ailment.
While Mili fought his way back, Stevens had his best season as a pro.
Stevens made a case to be the permanent starter in 2005, catching a career-high 45 passes and setting single-season team records for most yards (554) and touchdowns (five). Both records were previously held by Mili.
In four previous seasons, mostly plagued by nagging injuries, Stevens' best year was 2004, when he caught 31 balls for 349 yards.
Former Kahuku star Itula Mili has had a long and productive career with the Seattle Seahawks. He's at the Super Bowl, but he may not play.
"As happy as I am for Jerramy Stevens, on the other end I feel for Itula because he's a good player and one of my favorites," Lind said. "I think it took him a while after he came back to get up to full strength and by that time we were rolling and we just weren't going to make a change."
Mili concedes as much.
"Jerramy took advantage of the opportunity and he's done very well ... and I totally support him," he said. "I also believe that if someone steps in, fills in and he does great, you know, don't fix what's not broken."
But Mili's struggles to get back into playing shape also opened up opportunities for fourth-year tight end Ryan Hannam.
"He's a great complement to either Jerramy Stevens or Itula Mili," Lind said. "Instead of Itula moving back up to the No. 2 spot, Ryan, because of what he brought us as a blocker plus on special teams play, has stayed in that No. 2 spot."
Stevens, who made himself a household name this week by getting into a war of words with Steelers linebacker Joey Porter, said it was hard watching his mentor, Mili, struggle while he starred.
"Itula's one of my best friends on the team," Stevens said. "He definitely has been a factor in me making the transition to starting and doing positive things on the field.
"I feel for him, but everybody's asked to take a different role at different times and this is his at this point and I'm thankful for the fact that he continues to support me."
Although he isn't likely to see any playing time Sunday, Mili has been invaluable to the team in his role on the scout team, Lind said, emulating opposing offenses for the Seattle defense.
"It was tough for me, but I guess the only thing I had in my control was the way I responded to this whole thing," Mili said. "I always find it in myself to try to get my mind right again and try to be here for the team.
"By being on the scout team and giving the defense the best look I can ... it's those kinds of things that make me feel OK about this whole situation and how it worked out."
Mili has no plans to stay on the scout team.
"I think it just fuels a lot of fire in me for this next offseason to go out there and train really hard because of what happened to me this year," he said. "It's lit a fire in me even more so. That's my approach."