Saturday, February 6, 1999

P R O _ B O W L

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Chris Fuamata-Ma'afala, left, and Olin Kreutz
relax during a workout at the UH track.

Hawaii’s stars shine
on the sideline

By Pat Bigold


You'll see three of them at Sea Life Park today during Pro Bowl Family Day, and you can find another at the Topps Pro Bowl Card Show and Experience at the Blaisdell Exhibition Hall at noon.

They've been available to meet island fans throughout Pro Bowl week, thanks mostly to the efforts of the NFL Host Committee. The committee seemed to figure it was good public relations to bring in the homegrown heroes at this time of year.

There are a dozen active NFL athletes who cut their teeth on the game here and the majority are in town. It's a rare gathering.

They're not Pro Bowl selections, but they say being home this week has been a particularly moving experience for them.

''I can remember when I was a kid how Herschel Walker came to my school, and how nervous and excited I got as I got closer to him,'' said Itula Mili, Seattle Seahawks tight end from Kahuku High.

''Now I'm seeing that same look in the eyes of little kids coming to get my autograph and wow -- it's just an awesome feeling for me," said Mili.

''A lot ask me, 'Where are you from?' and I speak to them in pidgin and tell them I'm from Laie. And they're so amazed that a local boy is in the NFL."

That's the point that has floored these locally bred NFLers. Ask many local youngsters about Terrell Davis, Jamal Anderson, John Elway or Steve Young and they can spit out bios and stats.

But ask about Mili, Chicago Bears center Olin Kreutz (St. Louis School), San Diego Chargers linebacker Kurt Gouveia (Waianae), Atlanta Falcons' defensive lineman Esera Tuaolo (Kailua), Cincinnati Bengals' defensive lineman Kimo von Oelhoffen (Molokai) or even Denver's Maa Tanuvasa (Mililani), and they don't know.

''Most of the kids are amazed that I'm born and raised in Makaha," said Gouveia. ''They're amazed that I actually play in the NFL. They think I'm from California or some place else in the states, and they can't believe I'm homegrown.

"I tell them I went to Maile Elementary, Waianae Intermediate, Waianae High and graduated and went to BYU. I keep telling them anything is possible if you have hopes and dreams."

Gouveia said what's special about the NFL's willingness to bring in the local athletes is that when he was a child he never came face to face with a pro football player, or got to touch his hand.

''Now the kids get to examine us and find we're regular human beings, and that they could be where we are right now," said Gouveia.

Tuaolo, an eight-year NFL veteran from Waimanalo who played two seasons at Kailua High before moving to the mainland, was a backup defensive tackle for the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII. He had a sack against Steve Young during the NFL playoffs.

Tuaolo is known throughout the NFL not only for his football skills but his extraordinary voice. He will sing the National Anthem tomorrow before the Pro Bowl.

''It's a dream for me to come home and sing the anthem at Aloha Stadium,'' said Tuaolo, who signed autographs at the Pro Bowl Block Party last night at the Aloha Tower Market Place.

Tuaolo, who is featured on two NFL CDs available in local stores, has come home before to make minor appearances in the past. But he said this is the first time his presence has been heralded because of his local roots.

''I am a local boy and I think it's time Oahu know I exist,'' he said with a laugh.

''It is such a rush to see the smile on a little kid's face when he comes asking for your autograph. I was one of them. Yesterday I went to see my nieces and nephews at Waimanalo Elementary, where I went to school. I got a chance to talk to the class. I wish I had a chance to have a NFL player come in and talk to me back then."

Tuaolo said he was overwhelmed with ''a thousand questions" but that was fine.

''They wanted to know 'How strong are you?' and 'Have you tackled Jamal Anderson?' And a lot asked me where I'm from, and they couldn't believe I sat at a desk once in their same building."

Tanuvasa, who has been the Broncos' co-leader in sacks each of the last two seasons, had been mentioned as a possible Pro Bowl pick this year. But he was not chosen. Nonetheless, former Rainbow star jumped at the chance to accept the NFL's invitation to come and say ''howzit" to the local fans at the Pro Bowl Block Party.

Other than Broncos' kicker Jason Elam, who played for the Rainbows but is not a ''local boy," Tanuvasa currently is the most visible NFL player with Hawaii ties.

He shyly responds to the idea that he is fast becoming an idol to Hawaii youngsters. ''But I guess they can see that if I can do it, anybody can do it," said Tanuvasa.

Kreutz has started to learn what it's like to be a hometown hero and he felt a little excitement of his own when he got his first chance to meet Tanuvasa during a NFL party aboard the U.S.S. Missouri on Wednesday night. ''It's great to meet a guy like Maa, who has won two Super Bowls," said Kreutz. ''Makes me want to be where he is."

Kreutz signed autographs for local youngsters on Wednesday at a clinic at the Kaneohe Marine Corps Base.

''The kids asked me what is Chicago like and what is playing in the NFL like," he said. ''All questions I would want to ask if I was them."

But the question Kreutz said kept coming up was, ''Can local boys make it?"

''I just look at them and say, 'We're living proof that you can.' There's a lot of Hawaii guys with Super Bowl rings, like Jesse (Sapolu) and Mark (Tuinei), but the kids don't know it because Hawaii guys don't get as much press."

He said the adults ask him what it's like to play against linemen like John Randle (Vikings) or Leon Lett (Cowboys). ''I just say they are as advertised: great."

Von Oelhoffen, who handled a barrage of autograph requests at the Pro Bowl kickoff rally downtown at midweek, said he remembers going to the Pro Bowl as a 12-year-old, waiting for the players who were leaving the stadium afterwards but being afraid to approach them.

''When the little kids come up to me, I try to make them feel comfortable by talking to them, asking them questions about themselves because I know how I felt," he said.

Von Oelhoffen said that if local kids find it surprising that a boy from Honolulu could make it to the NFL, they find it almost impossible to believe he comes from Molokai.

Von Oelhoffen, who graduated from Molokai, could not play football there because the school has never had a football program. His only high school football experience was as a freshman at Moanalua, when he played on the junior varsity for ''a few weeks."

Mili, von Oelhoffen and Arizona Cardinals' running back Adrian Murrell (Leilehua) will be signing autographs at Sea Life Park today.

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala (St. Louis School), who scored a touchdown in the AFC's 57-39 loss to the NFC in yesterday's Rookie Beach Bowl, signed his name on tiny foam rubber footballs presented him by little girls after the game.

Accompanied by friends and relatives wearing jerseys that bore his NFL nickname, ''Fu,'' Fuamatu-Ma'afala, the only one to play bare-footed in the Beach Bowl, got as much attention as the bigger names at the game, including Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts and Charles Woodson of the Oakland Raiders.

Fuamatu-Ma'afala will be signing autographs between noon and 2 p.m. at the Topps Pro Bowl Card Show and Experience at the Blaisdell Exhibition Hall.

He scored three touchdowns in limited playing time as a rookie for the Steelers while Murrell had a 1,000-yard rushing season in leading the Cardinals to the playoffs.

Three other Hawaii NFL players are in town now but not involved with Pro Bowl activities. They are all members of the New Orleans Saints' roster: defensive lineman Pio Sagapolutele (Pac-Five), linebacker Ink Aleaga (Pac-Five) and offensive lineman Chris Naeole (Kahuku).

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