Thursday, January 28, 1999
has it made in
The former St. Louis SchoolBy Pat Bigold
star earned a trip to the Super
Bowl as a Broncos' practice-
He was one of three St. Louis School alumni taken in last year's National Football League draft.
But while Olin Kreutz got to play center for the Chicago Bears and Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala scored three touchdowns as a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Viliami Maumau seemed to disappear from the face of the earth.
Drafted in the seventh round by the Carolina Panthers, the 6-foot-1, 300-pound Maumau failed to make the playing roster.
He was assigned to the practice squad until the bottom fell out in October. He was unceremoniously released.
But Maumau landed on his feet like a big cat.
He was picked up by the Denver Broncos to play on their practice squad.
So, Maumau, still a rookie, is in Miami for Super Bowl XXXIII.
''It's better than anything I could ever imagine," he said.
Having played his college ball for Colorado, Maumau said being able to move to Denver was almost like going home.
He won't play in Super Bowl XXXIII, but he will be standing on the sidelines. And he will be getting a ring and a modest share of the money for helping prepare the regulars for combat.
Maumau would be enjoying his Super Bowl week a lot more if he wasn't battling the flu.
''I've felt miserable," he said. ''I've had a fever since Monday and it's gotten worse."
Maumau has continued practicing with the team this week, going up against Broncos' Pro Bowl center Tom Nalen on every snap.
''I want a ring just as much as they do," said Maumau.
But the effects of the flu did cause him an embarrassing moment on media day (Tuesday) when he fell asleep on the field at Pro Player Stadium.
''I sat down and tried to stay awake but my body heated up so bad that I just kinda went to sleep. And somebody caught me on camera."
The photographer stuck a print on Maumau's locker.
''Our offensive linemen rave about Vili," said Denver starting defensive end Maa Tanuvasa, who himself began with the Broncos as a practice squad player.
''I just want to help them to win," said Maumau.
''I've learned it's not all about strength -- that it's all about technique and quickness," he said. ''You have to be able to move laterally as much as you move north and south. And hands are very, very important."
He said he's amazed at Tanuvasa's play.
''His hands and feet are unbelievable. To add to that, he's so strong that you never know if he's gonna go around you or through you."
Maumau said he's grateful to Tanuvasa for taking him under his wing the past few months, and especially for his frequent invitations to eat island-style meals prepared by Tanuvasa's wife, the former Kristin Miyasato.
"She makes the best," he said. ''Tastes even better than L&L's. I told Maa, 'Man, you gotta open a restaurant.' "
Maumau said his own wife, Michele Riojas, is a pretty good cook but she's not from Hawaii.
''She's from Texas, so if you like barbecue ribs or barbecue chicken, mmm ..."
The couple will be married five years in May and have three children, ranging in age from 8 months to 4 years.
Even though he is only a practice-squad player, Maumau said media people still come up and ask him questions.
''They want to know what it's like to be here after getting released by the Panthers," he said.
That's a feeling that's still sinking in for him.
Super Bowl XXXIIIAt Stake: National Football League Championship for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Participants: Denver Broncos (AFC) vs. Atlanta Falcons (NFC).
Site: Pro Player Stadium, Miami.
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:25 p.m.
TV coverage: FOX (Channel 2).