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Mosi Tatupu: Coke machine, refrigerator, beast

February 24, 2010 |  4:39 pm

Mosi Tatupu, a former USC fullback who became celebrated for his special-teams play in 13 NFL seasons with the New England Patriots, died Tuesday. He was 54.

The Patriots said Tatupu, a native of American Samoa who grew up in Hawaii, died at Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro, Mass., The cause was not announced.

Tatupu played four years at USC beginning in 1974, when USC won a share of the national championship. An eighth-round draft pick of the Patriots in 1978, Tatupu was a mainstay of New England’s special teams lineups and appeared in Super Bowl XX in 1986, which the Chicago Bears won in a 46-10 rout.

With his stocky 6-foot, 225-pound frame and determined attitude, Tatupu played an important role as a blocking fullback in USC’s I-formation offenses of the 1970s, clearing the way for star tailbacks Anthony Davis, Ricky Bell and Charles White.

"He’s the finest blocking back at USC since Sam Cunningham," John Robinson said while he was coach at USC. "He’s built low to the ground, and he just runs right at you, hits you and knocks you on your wallet.

"He’s also an outstanding runner — about as easy to tackle as a Coke machine."

Reminded of Robinson’s quote on Wednesday, Davis called Tatupu "a refrigerator."

"He didn’t say much," Davis told Times reporter Gary Klein, "but, oh my, he was a beast on the field."

Robinson, who also coached Tatupu in the fullback's final NFL season, had more to say about Tatupu on Wednesday in an interview with Klein.

"He was one of the smartest, toughest players I’ve ever known," Robinson said. "Like a lot of the Samoan guys, he just had a great personality. He was a huge leader on our team. ...

"If you were picking an all-time USC team that actually had to play a game, you’d want him on your team."

Asked about his comment about Tatupu being built like a Coke machine, Robinson replied, "He was. He was square. His body was absolutely square, and he had a good feet. He played fullback, but he could have been a really good running back too."

Mosi2 Davis added in his interview with Gary Klein: Tatupu "was a monster, one of the anchor guys on the kick return team. Him, Ricky Bell, Dave Farmer, Dwight Ford, Allen Carter, all those guys went to the next level."

Charles Phillips, a senior defensive back at USC when Tatupu was a freshman, also recalled his teammate Wednesday in an interview with Gary Klein:

"I used to call him ‘Moosi-Moosi’ and he would just smile ear to ear. He was the hardest worker and I loved him dearly. ...

"He was one of the hardest workers out there. One of the better blocking fullbacks SC ever had. He was responsible for Ricky Bell and some of the great seasons he had. I’m just in shock."

Gary Klein also spoke with Brad Budde, an All-American offensive guard at USC and Lombardi Award winner in 1979, about Tatupu:

"I think of Mosi and I just think of a tremendous competitor, a warrior type and yet so soft spoken and kind of looking out for everyone, making sure everyone was OK. ...

"As a freshman coming from Kansas City, I was a long way from home and he was from that Samoan family that is really family-oriented.

"I started as a freshman and there were times I kind of got homesick. He was able to reach out to me and help me process some of those feelings but at the same time help me become a man and not be totally controlled by the feelings.

"He was one of those few athletes that had balance. He was prepared to do war on the field but was very personable and never lost that sensitive, human side that is well known in that [Samoan] culture."

The news obituary is here.

-- Claire Noland

Top photo: Mosi Tatupu was a fullback at USC from 1974 through the 1977 season. Credit: Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times

Second photo: Mosi Tatupu during his Patriot days. Credit: Associated Press / New England Patriots