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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pio Sagapolutele, 39; played for Patriots

Pio Sagapolutele, who played an unsung role along the defensive line for the New England Patriots' 1996 American Football Conference championship team, died Sunday evening in Chandler, Ariz. He was 39.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Mr. Sagapolutele, who began his professional football career with the Cleveland Browns, had suffered an aneurysm on Friday.

At 6-foot-6 and 297 pounds, Mr. Sagapolutele was one of the Patriots' more physically imposing players in 1996, as the team's head coach Bill Parcells preferred big, sturdy players along the defensive line.

After signing with the team as an unrestricted free agent, Mr. Sagapolutele started 10 of 15 regular-season games and all three playoff games, including a 35-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXI.

Mr. Sagapolutele, a native of American Samoa who grew up in Hawaii and played in college at San Diego State, entered the National Football League in 1991 as a fourth-round draft choice of the Browns. His versatility to play both the end and tackle position appealed to Bill Belichick, the Browns' coach at the time.

When Belichick was hired as a defensive assistant with the Patriots in 1996, Mr. Sagapolutele was part of his unit, totaling 28 tackles and three quarterback sacks.

"When we drafted him as part of our first class in Cleveland, we saw a tough, hard-working, dependable player and that is exactly what Pio brought to his teams on a daily and yearly basis," said Belichick, who is now in his 10th season as Patriots head coach. "He was a quiet leader and a significant contributor to the record-setting '94 Browns defense and then again with the Patriots' '96 AFC Championship season."

In a 2005 story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Mr. Sagapolutele said: "My best memory was just being out there on the field for my first game. I was playing for the Browns and I remember sitting on the field stretching in the pre-game, thinking about growing up in Kalihi . . . and how far I had come."

Mr. Sagapolutele finished his career with the New Orleans Saints in 1997.

He had recently moved his family to Arizona. He leaves his wife, Yvonne, and four children.

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