Star-Bulletin Sports

Saturday, April 14, 2001


NFL Hawaii

‘Fu’ signs offer
with Patriots

NFL running back is home
for his brother Nick's
funeral services

By Dave Reardon

CHRIS FUAMATU-MA'AFALA wants to remain a Pittsburgh Steeler. He could soon become a New England Patriot, and that could be good, too.

But all that can wait, or be taken care of by others. Right now the priority for "Fu" is to be a brother and son, to be with his family in a time of need.

The NFL running back out of St. Louis School has been back home since last Saturday, the day his brother, former McKinley star Nick Ma'afala, died of leukemia.

Yesterday would have been Nick's 34th birthday. The family held a private viewing service that included about 50 close relatives, including some from Samoa.

There will be a public wake Friday at Borthwick Mortuary. The doors open at 5 p.m. with services at 6:30 p.m. Burial at Hawaiian Memorial is Saturday with services at 10 a.m. and noon.

Chris is 10 years younger than Nick. He said he vaguely remembers his big brother dominating the line of scrimmage for the Tigers in the early 1980s.

"I was just a little kid watching him play. I didn't really know how great a player he was until the years went on and people told me about how good he was," Fuamatu-Ma'afala said. "I'm definitely dedicating next season to him. I'm not sure what yet, but I'll probably have something written on my towel."

Fuamatu-Ma'afala said the family has rallied, with the most strength coming from matriarch Lusia Ma'afala, mother of 11.

"My mom is tough. She's hanging in there. She's doing all the stuff for us," Fuamatu-Ma'afala said, as she massaged him yesterday at home after Chris worked out at the University of Hawaii.

In addition to dealing with the loss of his brother, Fuamatu-Ma'afala is at a professional crossroads. Yesterday, the Patriots signed the restricted free agent to a one-year offer sheet reportedly worth around $750,000. The Steelers, for whom Fuamatu-Ma'afala has played his first three years, have until Friday to match the offer.

The Steelers have offered him a $512,000 one-year deal that remains unsigned.

"I'd like to stay in Pittsburgh. It's a great football town. I love the offense, the players, coaches and fans," the 5-foot-11, 252-pound Utah alumnus said. "But they have Jerome (Bettis). I might have a better chance of playing in New England. They don't really have a starter penciled in."

Fuamatu-Ma'afala had previously been hampered by hamstring, shoulder and ankle injuries when he broke a bone in his left foot last Oct. 22 and missed the last nine games of the season. To that point, he had rushed 21 times for 149 yards and a touchdown as Pittsburgh's third-down back.

For his career, he has carried 29 times for 183 yards and three touchdowns in 29 games. Fuamatu-Ma'afala has also caught one pass for 20 yards and has one receiving touchdown.

Fuamatu-Ma'afala starred for three Prep Bowl winning teams at St. Louis School before going on to Utah. He was drafted by the Steelers in the 6th round of the 1998 draft.If the Steelers match the Patriots' offer, Fuamatu-Ma'afala said, he will fly to Pittsburgh for a three-day mini-camp in two weeks.

"Last year was disappointing because I started out well and got hurt in a freak accident," he said. "I'm all healed up."

Physically. Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala and his family still have some emotional recovery to complete.

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