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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tatupu's dominance gave birth to a legend

By Ferd Lewis

More than 30 years before the issue of President Obama and the so-called "birthers" there was Mosi Tatupu and his birth date.

Tatupu was so powerful, so amazing as a running back and, indeed, an athlete across the spectrum for Punahou School, that he was widely termed "a man among boys."

So dominating that some sadly reasoned he couldn't be a mere high school aged-student when he was a 6-foot, 180-pounder tearing up the Interscholastic League of Honolulu.

Never mind that nobody ever unearthed proof to contradict the birth records he furnished to enter school sports leagues. Or that an ILH investigation certified his age and the rumors were stoked by a newspaper error that was later corrected.

Eventually it all became part of Tatupu's legendary status, additional tribute to an impressive mountain of statistics and records of someone who held a larger-than-life place in the local sports scene.

Tatupu, who died at the too-young age of 54 Tuesday in Massachusetts, was in the minds of many people who saw him play much like Herman Wedemeyer, Johnny Naumu, Wally Yonamine and Onosai Tanuvasa, to name but a few, the premier high school running back in Hawai'i.

Born in American Sāmoa and raised in Kalihi Valley, Tatupu didn't play junior varsity ball as a freshman due to a broken ankle. But he burst on the scene as a sophomore in 1971, running for 171 yards and two touchdowns in his varsity debut against Radford.

Almost immediately, the "man among boys" description was applied and the birthdate question, then practically a rite of passage for some of the best running backs that preceded him, popped up.

Yonamine, who starred for Farrington in the early 1940s, for example, was hit with the same questions after 'Iolani's Father Kenneth Bray was quoted as saying, "that's a grown man playing against high school boys."

Tatupu was a much-honored, record-setting, three-sport athlete, hitting .700 in a state baseball tournament and being named ILH player of the year in basketball. But football, where he attracted legions to Honolulu Stadium and the widest recruiting interest of anybody until Manti Te'o, was his marquee sport.

At USC, coach John Robinson used to say bringing down Tatupu was "about as easy as tackling a Coke machine." With the Trojans, Tatupu also helped put the "body" in the famed student body right and left running game as a ferocious blocker and went on to a 14-year NFL career with Pro Bowl and Super Bowl appearances.

Small wonder that Tatupu's exploits were often so remarkable as to seem, to some, at least, too good to be true.