Full-Court Press

By Paul Arnett

Saturday, May 8, 1999

Mark Tuinei was a man
well worth remembering

SEVERAL years ago, my wife found me knee deep in newspapers in the far reaches of our bedroom closet -- affectionately known in our family as the time machine.

She knew better than to ask straight away what I was looking for because chances were I didn't know. She was well aware that total recall wasn't always a sure thing for me once I filed down the yellow brick road paved with old newspaper clippings.

"I'm looking for 1983," I said partly to myself. She gazed back at me with a bemused expression, one only a wife of 14 years can wear so well.

"You're not in the right period or town," she said from the safety of the hallway. "San Angelo in the early 1980s is in that old box on the top shelf. By the looks of it, you're in Las Vegas during the late 1980s."

Of course, she was right. The top paper on one of the tattered and torn piles sported a picture of Jerry Tarkanian during his happier days at Nevada-Las Vegas. I stuffed his impish grin into an old travel bag, then looked to the box I hoped contained the right story.

"Come to papa," I said, straining to shoulder this 50-pound box of memories.

MY mission on this January afternoon in 1995 was to do research for a story on Mark Tuinei. The part of my memory that worked believed I wrote a short on him during his rookie campaign a dozen years before.

In those days, I hung my hat in San Angelo, Texas, which happened to be the summer site for the Houston Oilers. Head coach Bum Phillips figured this out-of-the-way settlement was a perfect place to train the troops. It was good for me because it allowed our small paper to cover the Oilers in preseason, including their annual game with the hated Cowboys.

"How was your walk down memory lane?" my wife asked as I read my account of that meaningless preseason matchup. "Have you found what you're looking for?"

"I'm not sure," I replied. "But I think I'm getting close."

And then I saw it. It was a story about the Cowboys class of 1983. It even had a quote from Tuinei of how fortunate he felt to survive the cut. The last sentence read: "Tuinei is a defensive lineman from Hawaii who Dallas personnel director Gil Brandt believes could be a good center some day."

"Is that true?" I asked Tuinei during a Pro Bowl practice the morning after I found the old clip. Not that I was doubting my own words, mind you. But considering how things turned out, it seemed pretty far-fetched.

"Yeah, they thought about it," Tuinei said. "Good thing they moved me to tackle or I wouldn't be here now."

THE twinkle in those penetrating eyes revealed a sense of humor that was as much a Tuinei trademark as his ability to protect Troy Aikman's blind side. More than anyone, the former Punahou standout realized how fortunate he was to be standing in front of a Pro Bowl locker with his name on it.

"This is something I'll never forget," he said. "Never."

After watching several TV accounts of Tuinei's death late Thursday night, my wife pulled me back to the present.

"You haven't been in that closet since looking up that story on him," she said matter-of-factly. "Go make us some popcorn and I'll get the boxes ready. I feel like looking back on old times."

So did I, if only to spend a moment or two with my wife to see what was and what was to come. I'm sure Tuinei's family will drag down their own scrapbooks in the days and years ahead, and wish he were there to go back in time with them.

Paul Arnett has been covering sports
for the Star-Bulletin since 1990.

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