Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, January 27, 1999

S U P E R _ B O W L _ X X X I I I

Tanuvasa has
climbed his way
to the top

All the hard work has
earned the Mililani native an
NFL championship and a chance
for one more at Miami

By Pat Bigold


It's hard to imagine how many rungs Mililani native Maa Tanuvasa has had to climb on the National Football League ladder.

An eighth-round draft pick out of Hawaii in 1993, he was released by the Los Angeles Rams in their 1994 training camp. He managed to stay in the NFL as a practice squad defensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers and then the Denver Broncos for two seasons.

Denver finally put him on the active roster in late 1995, but he didn't become a regular starter on the Broncos' defensive line until the first Sunday of November 1997.

Since that time, Tanuvasa has become a millionaire and the Broncos have made it to two Super Bowls.

He has one victory ring for last year's win over Green Bay, and Denver is favored to beat NFC champion Atlanta in Super Bowl XXXIII.

The young man who held on to the NFL career by his fingernails a few years ago is now a cool, composed veteran of Super Sunday.

"I'm not as caught up with the hype as I was the first time," said Tanuvasa, who played three years for the Rainbows. "So many people want a part of you, because they know you're going to the big game."

He said he and his wife, the former Kristin Miyasato, are spending the week leading up to Super Sunday enjoying themselves more than they did in San Diego last year.

Tanuvasa, who invited about a dozen relatives and friends to the 1998 game, said entertaining and spending time with those people ate up a lot of the couple's time.

"It was pretty hectic," he said.

This time, it's only Maa and Kristin.

The only thing that bothers Tanuvasa now is the two-week period between the AFC championship and the Super Bowl.

"It's like a drag," he said. "I wish they could simply play it the week after. But I guess it's all part of the business and they have to let the hype build."

Tanuvasa thinks about Atlanta running back Jamal Anderson, with whom he is familiar.

"He played at Utah when I was at Hawaii," said Tanuvasa. "He's a year younger than me. He was always a hard guy to tackle. I think I should expect the same in a game like this."

Some critics say the Broncos' pass rush has disappeared during the playoffs. Denver has only one sack in the two games.

Tanuvasa, who tied for the team lead for the second year in a row with 8.5 sacks and recently signed a $8.9 million, six-year contract extension, hasn't had his hands on a quarterback since Dec. 13 at Giants Stadium when the Broncos suffered their first loss of the season (20-16) to the New York Giants.

"We seem to be trading our sacks for turnovers and our DBs (defensive backs) have been getting a lot of interceptions, so we'll take those over a sack any time," said Tanuvasa.

The Broncos had two interceptions and three fumble recoveries against the New York Jets in the AFC championship and two interceptions and one fumble recovery against the Miami Dolphins.

Tanuvasa will be facing potential sack bait in dropback passer Chris Chandler. He was sacked three times for minus 23 yards against Minnesota.

"But he reads his keys well and he'll stay in the pocket and take a hit if he has to to get the ball out to his receiver," said Tanuvasa.

"He's a guy who's been in the league a while and he knows what it takes to get the job done. We'd like to get some pressure on him to make him hurry."

Standing between Chandler and the 6-foot-2, 270-pound Tanuvasa will be the most experienced member of the Falcons' offensive line: 6-5, 310-pound left tackle Bob Whitfield.

Former Pac-Five standout Pio Sagapolutele, who has played against Whitfield as a defensive end for the New Orleans Saints, calls the Falcons' big lineman one of the best in the NFC.

But Sagapolutele thinks Tanuvasa can handle him.

"Bob has good feet and he gets the job done with that big body," said Sagapolutele, speaking from a Waikiki hotel.

"He won't give up many sacks. But I think it's a good matchup because Maa is stronger. And if Maa can work him laterally then he might be able to beat him."

Last year, Tanuvasa played inside and was concerned with Green Bay's guard and center.

"I'll have to be consistent and hopefully make my plays to the gaps," he said.

Tanuvasa said John Elway is a huge motivational plus for the defense.

"We know that if we get the ball back in his hands, he'll get it into the end zone. The more we can do that, the better chance we have of winning."

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