Aloha, Mosi Tatupu


POSTED: Thursday, February 25, 2010

That first glimpse of Mosi Tatupu striding through the Punahou campus remains vivid in Jack Wright's memory.

“;He comes up to me and asks where the science class is and I told him, 'Well, the high school is over there on that side,' “; Wright recalled of that morning in intermediate school. “;He said, 'No, I'm in eighth grade,' and I said, 'Oh my gosh, I'm going to have to make this guy my best friend.' “;

Though physically imposing, Wright found Tatupu eminently accessible and the duo indeed bonded quickly back in 1969, forming a friendship that endured through Tatupu's storied athletic career in high school, college and the NFL.

Upon hearing the news of Tatupu's death Tuesday, Wright's memories filled with images of growing up with one of Hawaii's greatest athletes who remained “;just Mosi”; to those close to him.

“;As great as an athlete that he was, he was 10 times a better person,”; said Wright, who last spoke to Tatupu over the weekend.

“;He was just the nicest, most humble guy I know. His personality and character were way more outstanding than his athletic ability. ... Unbelievable athlete, unbelievable person, unbelievable friend.”;

;[Preview]  Mosi Tatupu remembered

KITV4's Robert Kekaula brings us some of the memories of standout Punahou running back Mosi Tatupu.

Watch ]


Revered in the Pacific and beloved in New England, Tatupu died Tuesday in Attleboro, Mass., at age 54, and word of his death resonated from Foxboro, Mass., to Los Angeles to Honolulu. The cause of death was not disclosed by Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro, where Tatupu died.

Linnea Garcia-Tatupu said last night she did not know how her ex-husband died.

“;He was a great, great, individual and the more people learn about him as a person the more they will realize that,”; Garcia-Tatupu said. “;And he was nothing if not entertaining.”;

Born in American Samoa in 1955, Mosiula Tatupu grew into a record-setting running back at Punahou, went on to a standout career at USC and became a popular figure with the New England Patriots during his 14-year NFL career.

He played on the game's biggest stages and twice earned trips back to Hawaii.

Tatupu appeared in two Rose Bowls as a USC fullback and capped his college career in the 1978 Hula Bowl. He played in the Super Bowl with the 1986 Patriots, earning his lone Pro Bowl selection that season as well.

His son, Lofa, followed him as a USC standout and a Pro Bowler with the Seattle Seahawks.

Through it all, Tatupu — an inductee into the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame and a member of the Patriots' 50th Anniversary Team — remained grounded.

“;He never put himself above anyone. He was just one of the boys to us,”; said Keith Uperesa, a Punahou classmate who was buoyed by a call from Tatupu during his battle with cancer.

“;It was very comforting to me to get back in touch with him. It was like we never left Punahou,”; Uperesa said from Louisiana, where he was recently hired as an assistant coach at Nicholls State.

Neal Ane played against Tatupu in the PAL youth leagues — Ane with Manoa and Tatupu with Lanakila — and they found themselves on the same side when Tatupu enrolled at Punahou in the eighth grade.

“;In every sport, he always did something unbelievable that just kind of took your breath away,”; said Ane, a teammate of Tatupu's in football, basketball and baseball.

“;He was one of those special people who come along every once in a while. I know we feel very honored and privileged to have known this guy and to be his friend.”;

Ane's older brother, Kale, was a senior at Punahou when Tatupu was among a group of freshmen called up to practice with the varsity.

“;We had a couple of practices and we tried to remind him that he was a freshman,”; Kale Ane said. “;But he reminded us he was pretty good at the same time.”;

The rest of the Interscholastic League of Honolulu soon found out how good as Tatupu rushed for a then-Hawaii high school record 3,367 yards for the Buffanblu.

“;They always say the linemen make the running back, well, it was just the opposite,”; said Wright, a Buffanblu guard. “;Having him behind us, I'd just get in the way and he did the rest. He was a man among boys when he played.”;

The group remained close even as they dispersed to college, and recently reunited for the funeral of longtime Punahou coach Dave Eldredge.

Neal Ane said he spoke to Tatupu two weeks ago to discuss a football camp planned for this summer.

Wright said he called Tatupu over the weekend to tease his buddy about being stuck on the frigid East Coast while he was playing golf in Hawaii.

“;His friends were always first and he never thought of himself as being any better than anybody else,”; Wright said.

Neal Ane said his father, former Punahou coach Charley Ane, wanted Tatupu to attend a college that could feature his running ability. But Tatupu thrived as a blocking back at USC, where he was a member of USC's 1974 national championship team and was named the Trojans' offensive player of the year and most inspirational player in 1977.

“;Mosi never complained and just went and did his job, just like he did when he played in the NFL,”; Neal Ane said.

Tatupu was drafted in the eighth round by the Patriots in 1978 and rushed for 2,415 yards and 18 touchdowns in his career, but he was best known for his fierce play on special teams and a cheering section in his honor — Mosi's Mooses — became a fixture at New England's home games.

An award named after Tatupu was presented to the nation's top collegiate special teams player from 1997 to 2006.

“;As a teammate, he was one of the best,”; former Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan said on the team's Web site. “;The fans appreciated him because he was a lunchpail kind of guy and did whatever was asked of him — whether it was on special teams, on the goal line, in blocking or catching situations. I think Patriots fans really appreciated that.”;


The Associated Press contributed to this story.