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Saturday, January 16, 2010

American Samoa: Football Island

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American Samoa, a territory with a population less than the capacity of a pro-football stadium, sends more players to the NFL than any similarly populated place in America. In fact, boys born to Samoan parents are estimated to be 56 times more likely to play in the NFL than other Americans, reports Scott Pelley on this Sunday's 60 Minutes.

The Samoan people tend to be on the larger side and the islands' six high schools have sent 10 linemen to the NFL in the last five years. One of those 10 NFL linemen who played Samoan high school ball is the Cincinnati Bengals' Domata Peko, who says Samoans' speed plays a role as well.

"The combination of size and ability and speed, that's kind of hard to find. Big dudes who can have nimble feet and are able to run and go sideline to sideline," says Peko.

Peko's teammate, another Samoan named Jonathan Fanene, is a defensive end who proves Peko's point with his six sacks and a touchdown this season. Says Fanene, "With the talent that we have, we have to take pride of it, especially when you have the opportunity to come to the mainland."

Fanene's little - well, not so little - brother, 17-year-old Aiulua, is poised to follow in Jonathan's footsteps. At 6 feet 5 inches tall and 280 pounds, he's considering offers from Arizona University and Oregon State. Like many other Samoans, he does a day's worth of chores before school starts. His father, David, thinks the discipline has a lot to do with his kids' football success.

"That's how he's been brought up. Discipline. Obedience should be involved in this house and I am expecting our children to obey us," he tells Pelley

Jonathan Fanene built his family a palatial home in Samoa with the seven-figure salary his NFL career affords him.

Perhaps the most famous Samoan in the NFL, Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu - born in the U.S. to Samoan parents - says the island is lucky to have the option of football. Beyond a career in the NFL, Samoans have little opportunity beyond the military or work in a tuna canning industry based there that is threatening to pull out soon.

"The beautiful thing about football is it's allowed us to get into education," says Polamalu. "Football is something that comes naturally to us," he tells Pelley.

There are currently more than 30 Samoans in the NFL and another 200-plus playing Division I college football. There are just 65,000 people living on the islands. "What if there were 120 million Samoans," wonders Polamalu. "How many Samoans would there then be in the NFL?"

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