The Way I See It

By Pat Bigold

Tuesday, September 9, 1997

Tatupu will be there
to catch the Big Tuna

MOSI Tatupu will be there, although not for the same reason that many New Englanders will fill Foxboro Stadium's 60,423 seats on Sunday.

It's New England vs. the New York Jets and no game has meant more to people in Tatupu's adopted region since the Super Bowl.

Despite the Patriots' NFL-leading 72 points, despite Drew Bledsoe's eight touchdown passes to eight different receivers and no interceptions in two games, and despite the fact that Pete Carroll is the Pats' first coach to win his first two games, the focus of this event is written on a T-shirt: "Grill the Tuna."

The return of the Big Tuna, Bill Parcells, the man who guided the Patriots to the Super Bowl in January, is evoking a torrent of emotion among his former players and fans.

And Tatupu, the former Punahou, USC and Patriots fullback (1978-1990), can understand why.

"I can't help but think why not," he said in a phone interview yesterday afternoon from his home in Plainville, Mass., a small town adjoining Foxboro.

"They (the players) feel he left them on a bad note. He left them right after the Super Bowl. He didn't come back on the plane with them. There are a lot of factors involved, and whether or not they want to make it personal, that's their own deal."

TATUPU, who met Parcells in 1978 when the Parcells was a linebacker coach for the Patriots, has a much more benign attitude toward the man.

"I think the Tuna did a good job while he was here. He just happened to sign a good contract and left. Everybody does it."

But would he have wanted to play for the coach who made Drew Bledsoe feel demeaned?

"I would love to have played for him," said Tatupu without hesitation.

"And you know there are people here who still love him. He overhauled this team and made winners out of them. They were way ahead of their schedule because they were so young."

Tatupu thinks the Patriots are destined this year, but he's concerned about the 12 penalties they committed Sunday while beating the hapless Colts, 31-6, in Indianapolis.

Even after the Jets' 28-22 loss to Buffalo, Tatupu said Parcells will be ready to devour the Patriots if they repeat their mistakes.

TATUPU, who attends all Patriots home games and stays in close touch with former teammates who live in his area, is in his third year as head coach of the varsity football team at King Philip Regional High School in Wrentham, Mass. He loves to coach, even though he has compiled an unspectacular record of 2-18 the past two seasons with marginally talented material.

His two victories are against the same school - Sharon High - which is coached by former Patriots strong safety Roland James, a teammate of Tatupu for 10 years.

Now playing quarterback and linebacker for the junior varsity squad at King Philip is Tatupu's son, Lofa, who is 5-foot-9, 150 pounds.

His daughter, Linnea, has played basketball for King Philip but Tatupu said she's losing interest in sports now and turning more toward music these days.

His wife, the former Linnea Garcia, once a Radford track and field standout, has closed her nail salon. She now trains boxers and works with elderly people at a state facility.

Tatupu's goal remains to coach at the college or pro level somewhere, but his heart remains with the Patriots' organization.

"This seems like home to me," he said.

Pat Bigold has covered sports for daily newspapers
in Hawaii and Massachusetts since 1978.

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