Tatupu (No. 30) carries the ball for the New England Patriots against the Los Angeles Raiders in a playoff victory on Jan. 5, 1986.
Tatupu (No. 30) carries the ball for the New England Patriots against the Los Angeles Raiders in a playoff victory on Jan. 5, 1986. NFL Photos/AP
Football fans are mourning Mosi Tatupu, a powerful running back at the forefront of the NFL's "Samoan invasion." Tatupu was just 54 when he died Tuesday at a hospital in Attleboro, Mass. The cause of death has not yet been disclosed.
Paramedics from the fire department in Plainville, Mass., took Tatupu from his home to the hospital on Tuesday, Lt. Richard Ball told The Associated Press.
Tatupu, who played college football at the University of Southern California, was drafted by the New England Patriots in 1978. He played 13 years with the Patriots before spending a final NFL season with the Los Angeles Rams in 1991.
His son Lofa — a linebacker with the Seattle Seahawks — is helping to continue what has become a rich tradition of NFL players with Samoan roots.
"I know that I share a heavy heart today with Patriots fans everywhere who have learned of Mosi Tatupu's passing," Patriots team owner Robert Kraft said in a statement. "He was a dominant special teams player and a punishing rusher who loved the Patriots as much as the fans did."
Mosi Tatupu wasn't the first NFL player of Samoan descent. Al Lolotai joined the Washington Redskins in 1945 and the Detroit Lions picked up Charles Ane in 1953.
But when Tatupu and UCLA defensive lineman Manu Tuiasosopo carved out extended careers starting in the late 1970s, they helped establish a stream of talented players who trace their lineage to the island of just 65,000 people.
In fact, there are currently nearly 30 such players in the league.
Tatupu, born in Pago Pago, was never truly a star in the NFL. But he ran for 2,415 yards and 18 touchdowns over his pro career, including a career best 578 yards in 1983.
He was admired by Patriots fans for his play on kickoff and punt teams and even had his own cheering section — "Mosi's Mooses." He was selected to the 1986 Pro Bowl as a special teams player. And just last year he was picked for New England's 50th anniversary team.
"As a teammate, he was one of the best," former Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan said. "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."
After his playing career, Tatupu was the head coach at King Philip Regional High School in Wrentham, Mass., where he coached his son Lofa, now a linebacker with the Seattle Seahawks.
He also served as an assistant at Curry College in Milton, Mass., from 2002-2007, coaching running backs and special teams.
"Mosi was a vital part of the success of our program," said Vinnie Eruzione, athletic director at the Division III school. "There was no better guy."
Tatupu was born in Pago Pago, American Samoa, and was a high school football star in Hawaii. His Hawaii high school career rushing record of 3,367 yards stood for 17 years, according to the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame Web site.
From staff reports and The Associated Press