This is a special football season for Seattle Seahawks Middle Linebacker Lofa Tatupu.
His hope, as well as the Seahawks’ hope, is that 2010 will continue to be special for the middle linebacker because if he stays healthy beyond the bye week and returns to the form that made him a Pro Bowler in each of his first three seasons, the Seahawks will definitely be better when he is on his game and on the field.
Ultimately, however, 2010 will be different and meaningful for Tatupu regardless of how he plays.
The toughest offseason of his life is over.
Much more difficult than coming back from injuries, however, will be the challenge of playing his first season without his father, Mosi Tatupu. Mosi, who like his son starred at USC before going on to a successful NFL career, passed away in February, a devastating blow for the son who forged a bond with his father through football.
“Football, that was our link,” Tatupu said. “That’s a part of the reason I love this game so much, because he was a quiet guy, he wasn’t much of a talker, but I remember in the times we shared how close football really brought us.”
It was Mosi Tatupu who convinced Pete Carroll, then the head coach at USC, to give a scholarship to an undersized linebacker who spent his freshman year at the University of Maine. It was Mosi, a running back with New England for 13 seasons, who instilled the love of football in his son.
So no, it won’t be business as usual for Tatupu this season. The son will constantly be reminded of his father on and off of the field.
“That was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to go through,” Tatupu said. “I can’t not tear up when I talk about it. He meant so much to me. You’ve got to have a passion for this game, and he did and he passed it on to me.”
The passion Mosi Tatupu passed down to his son made last year particularly trying for Tatupu. He missed two games early in the season with a hamstring injury then, in the sixth game of the season, tore his pectoral muscle, ending his year. From the sidelines, he watched helplessly as the Seahawks stumbled to a 5-11 record.
“It was devastating, I’d say to the point of depression,” he said. “I don’t mean that in any way to downplay the severity of depression, but when you love something that much, it’s devastating. When I left we were 2-3, so in the back of my mind it was eating at me that maybe I could have made a difference in some of those losses.”
But after battling a hamstring injury in training camp — he was held out of the first two preseason games as a precaution — Tatupu is healthy and ready to start every game this season. A Pro Bowler from 2005 to 2007, he played 15 games in 2008, but nagging injuries kept him from performing at his usual level. After missing most of last year, Tatupu wants to show that he can get back to being one of the game’s elite middle linebackers.
“I’m always out to prove myself,” he said. “I felt like I was on my way last year and then my pec snapped. It was just something that was out of my control. You’ve always got to prove yourself at this level or you won’t be around too long.”
For the Seahawks, a healthy Tatupu is essential not just for the plays he can make, but for the effect he has on the rest of the defense. For an example of Tatupu’s impact, look no further than linebacker Aaron Curry, the No. 4 pick in last year’s draft.
“Aaron Curry’s play changed when Lofa got hurt and at an early stage in a young guy’s career he was really helping Aaron quite a bit,” Carroll said.
Carroll said Tatupu has the same effect on veterans and rookies alike.
“He adds more than most guys because he helps the people around him play well,” Carroll said. “It’s not just his play, it’s the way he communicates, it’s his savvy, it’s his ability to identify situations and take advantage of the coaching and the game planning and all of that. He’s just uniquely qualified and so we feel much more together when he’s out there just because of what he brings. It’s more the intangibles almost than just the physical making the plays; he does that as well, though. . . He does a lot of terrific things on his own, but it’s his ability to help other guys play with confidence.”
Tatupu is ready to go. Ready to get back to playing football at a high level, and back to enjoying the game that helped forge a bond between father and son.
“I’m really thankful for football,” he said. “Really thankful.”