“Lofa Tatupu isn’t programmed to be vulnerable. If forced to choose between letting a running back drag him across the goal line and talking about his deepest feelings, he’d probably grin and ask, “Which running back?”
In his mind, he’s not a three-time Pro Bowler. He’s still the kid from Massachusetts that colleges once doubted, that NFL teams once doubted. Not big enough. Not fast enough. Not athletic enough. The criticisms are badges of motivation for him, and because last year was the most trying of his four NFL seasons, his defiant edginess has only sharpened.
We saw 2008 as an aberration for him, the lone scar on a beautiful start to his professional career. He saw it as more ammunition for his haters.
Only when you approach Tatupu from that angle does he release his distrust. For 15 minutes Thursday, he spoke honestly about last season and stopped masking his disappointment with terse reflection.
“It was a nightmare,” he admitted. “It was tough. As I’ve looked back and watched all the games, it was tough to accept. I didn’t think I played up to my potential. And as a team, we didn’t play well. That was disappointing.”
Entering the season, Tatupu was the best middle linebacker in the NFC. He was close to being the finest in the entire league. As a result, the Seahawks signed him to a fat, $42 million contract extension last March, and no one dared to question whether he was worth it.
But then his fate changed. He got a shocking DUI. He pleaded guilty, apologized publicly and vowed to make amends. When the season started, however, knee and thumb injuries tormented him.
It would be easy for him to blame the average performance on his aches. He’s earned the right to make one little excuse. But Tatupu declined.
“At times, I did not have the best of health, but you could say that about a lot of guys,” he said. “The way I’ve always felt is, if you’re cleared to play, there’s no excuse for not getting the job done.”
Tatupu has always been a vicious self-critic. In college, after he transferred from Maine to USC, he would let a mistake linger for several plays and nearly break down on the field. But he matured and learned to channel that disgust.
Despite his passion for perfection, Tatupu could’ve handled playing poorly. The losing disagreed with him most. The close defeats were especially tough. The linebacker was proud of his teammates for fighting through the injuries and competing hard every game, but what happened to the team that knew how to win at the end? How’d that quality vanish so quickly?”
columnist Jerry Brewer