Tatupu was force, friend
By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Writer
Down 25-6 in the fourth quarter to 'Iolani School in 1972, Punahou sophomore quarterback Duane Akina was in the midst of calling a pass play in the huddle when he heard a stream of agitated words in the Sāmoan language coming from his running back.
"It was Mosi (Tatupu)," Akina recalls. "So, (offensive linemen) Jack Wright and Keith Uperesa told me, 'We don't care what you were thinking about calling, just give it to (Tatupu) right now.' "
They went to Tatupu's favorite play, the 36 power, and, Akina recalls, "sure enough, he ran the ball down their throats and we came back to win, 27-25."
Not for the first — or last — time did Tatupu take over a game in Honolulu Stadium.
Tatupu, who died Tuesday in Massachusetts at age 54, ran for 205 yards and two touchdowns in that game, a stop on the way to then-Hawai'i state records of 3,367 yards, 37 touchdowns, 246 points and 3,406 yards total offense in three years.
The rushing mark stood for 17 years, but Tatupu's special place in local sports lore endures.
Tatupu started as a sophomore at USC and played 14 years in the NFL, appeared in a Pro Bowl and was a captain for the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl and, at one time, played in 169 consecutive games. By the time he retired in 1992, he had been the oldest active running back in the league and such a special teams force that a college award was named for him.
Yet for all his punishing running, the ability to level defenders as a blocker and ironman dedication, teammates recalled a humble, engaging friend. "Everybody who played with him looked up to him," Akina said. "He made those around him better and handled everything, all the attention, so well. He was so humble and level-headed."
David Farmer Sr., who was Tatupu's teammate and roommate for three years at USC and is the father of former UH running back David Jr., said, "He was a very tough individual, a ferocious blocker, with a very happy disposition and very soft spoken but most impressive was what a remarkably kind man he was ... always."
Former Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan told The Associated Press: "As a teammate, he was one of the best. He was one of those guys that made life fun whether it was in the locker room or on the practice fields. He had a smile that radiated."
"I know that I share a heavy heart today with Patriots fans everywhere who have learned of Mosi Tatupu's passing," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a statement to the AP. "He was a dominant special teams player and a punishing rusher who loved the Patriots as much as the fans did."
Farmer recalled that his "fondest memories of Mosi are of him teaching me how to carve a pineapple. His mother would send him a pineapple the night before each (USC) game. Mosi would call room service and order a cutting board, a salt shaker and a large knife (they actually did bring it).
"He would then make seven quick chops to skin the fruit, lay it down and 10 quick chops later we were eating 10 perfectly sliced pieces of pineapple ... all in under 15 seconds. (He) taught me how to cut it and, with a little salt, how to eat it. I get to think of him now 2-3 dozen times a year. I'll miss him."