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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Mosi Tatupu dead at 54

Mosi Tatupu made an indelible impact on sports fans from American Samoa to Honolulu to Southern California to New England.

Tatupu, one of the greatest athletes in the history of Hawaii, died Tuesday at age 54 in Attleboro, Mass. The cause of his death remained undisclosed Wednesday afternoon.

Those who knew him spoke of an incredibly gifted athlete and a caring and charismatic person.

Tatupu was born in Pago Pago, American Samoa. He starred in football at Punahou, USC and with the New England Patriots. He was a hard-nosed runner, blocker and special teams player.

"He was a powerful back with amazing balance and without a doubt the best running back I covered in Hawaii," said retired Star-Bulletin sportswriter Jim Easterwood. "And he was a better person."

Easterwood said Tatupu and Kahuku star Junior Ah You were the two best players he saw in 20 years of covering Hawaii high school football. His play for the Buffanblu was often described as that of "a man among boys."

His state career rushing record of 3,367 yards stood for 17 years.

Tatupu was also a standout in basketball and baseball for the Buffanblu. He helped both teams to state championships.

He graduated from Punahou in 1974.

"Mosi was a hero for us young Samoan athletes," said Joe Onosai, a Pac-Five and University of Hawaii star who was inspired by Tatupu. "He broke many stereotypes of our times when not many Samoans were graduating from Punahou or going to college."

At USC he was mostly a blocking fullback. Tatupu was a member of the Trojans' 1974 national championship team and was a backfield mate of future Heisman Trophy winner Charles White while at USC. Tatupu played in the 1978 Hula Bowl.

An award named after him was given annually to the nation's best special teams player in conjunction with the Hula Bowl from 1997 to 2006. The Patriots selected him in the eighth round with the 216th pick of the 1978 NFL Draft.

He played for the Patriots from 1978 to 1990, and made the 1986 Pro Bowl as a special teams player. He also played in Super Bowl XX in 1986, in which the Chicago Bears beat the Patriots 46-10.

When Tatupu retired in 1991 after five games with the Rams, he held the NFL's career record for most games by a running back with 199.

He carried the ball 612 times for 2,415 yards and 18 touchdowns. Tatupu's most productive season as a runner was 1983, when he rushed for 578 yards and four touchdowns and averaged 5.5 yards per carry.

Tatupu was one of the most popular Patriots players of his era, with a cheering section called "Mosi's Mooses."

Don Hasselbeck was Tatupu's teammate on the Patriots, and his son, Matt, is the teammate of Tatupu's son, Lofa, on the Seahawks.

"I'm devastated," Hasselbeck told the Boston Herald. "Man, I remember we used to tease him because he played great in the snow and was from Hawaii. He had that running style, a great low base. He played so hard. Man, this is hard to comprehend with someone that age."

The Patriots released a statement from chairman and CEO Robert Kraft.

"I know that I share a heavy heart today with Patriots fans everywhere who have learned of Mosi Tatupu's passing. I was shocked by the news this morning. My sons and I loved to watch Mosi. He was one of our favorite players for more than a decade. I don't think you could watch a Patriots game in the '80s without becoming a fan of his."

Tatupu was pronounced dead at Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro on Tuesday, a hospital spokeswoman said. A cause of death was not given.

He was taken to the hospital Tuesday from his home in nearby Plainville by fire department personnel who responded to an emergency call.

"CPR was administered at Mosi's apartment in Plainville," longtime friend Ken Finase told the Milford (Mass.) Daily News. "When I got to the hospital, he had died. But, I was able to be with him and say my goodbye."

Tatupu suffered from high-blood pressure and other ailments.

"He had some health issues," said Barry Markowitz, a family friend who was told of the death by Tatupu's ex-wife, Linnea.

Mosi coached Lofa at King Philip Regional High School in Wrentham, Mass.

At the time of his death, Mosi Tatupu was running backs coach at Curry College in Milton, Mass.

Tatupu is a member of the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame and was also named to the Patriots' 50th anniversary team.

Tatupu is also survived by a daughter, Linnea, and two sons in addition to Lofa, Samuel Garcia and Clarence Garcia.

The family is planning a service at Punahou.

Anyone wishing to contact members of the Tatupu family may do so by writing to P.O. Box 426, Lemon Grove, Calif. 91946.

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