Tatupu limps away after giving Seahawks his knees and heart
DAVE BOLING; STAFF WRITER
RENTON – At times like these, it seems the location of Seahawks headquarters on the shore of Lake Washington would make a special tribute possible.
I could imagine Sunday afternoon the players getting an old row boat, erecting a mast, and making a sail out of a “51” jersey. They could shove it out to “sea” and somebody could throw in a flaming football to set it ablaze.
Because if there was anybody around here whose career warranted a ceremonial viking burial it was Lofa Tatupu, linebacker/leader/warrior chief.
According to the release from the Seahawks, the team and Tatupu “mutually parted ways” on Sunday. The team asked him to take a pay cut and he asked for his release in response.
Tatupu is the second fan favorite to see his Seattle career end this week, joining quarterback Matt Hasselbeck as a recent high-profile discard.
Tatupu gave the fans plenty to like.
Here was an undersized guy who became a true leader of this team the minute he stepped on the field. Seriously. Some Seahawks players marveled at how his presence and instincts set him apart on his very first day. He stepped on the field and immediately knew where everyone was supposed to be.
Respected around the league, he was voted to three Pro Bowls.
But the admiration for him was greatest in the locker room. There was no member of the Seahawks more reluctant to talk about himself or more eager to talk about a teammate.
Lofa Tatupu was all about the team.
One of the great stories behind the scenes from the year (2009) he was sidelined with a torn pectoral muscle: He still attended meetings and watched extra film just so he could mentor his replacement, David Hawthorne.
“Most vets would have thrown it in the tank and focused on themselves and leave the facility and not be around,” Hawthorne said. “But he was a true professional. … He didn’t want to leave me hanging and make me embarrass myself in front of a million people. He basically passed on all the knowledge he had to me.”
That’s the sign of a pro’s pro and an all-world teammate.
And play hurt? The man always played hurt. And that was the biggest problem for Tatupu in recent years: He rarely played when he wasn’t hurt.
Many will remember the playoff game after the 2005 season against Carolina for the NFC title when he and back Nick Goings both were flattened on the turf by an enormous Tatupu hit. I think that hit affected Tatupu, and it seemed that the next year he started playing with more concern for his body.
Last season, with a pair of tender knees, he would sit out most practices during the week, then come out and play in the game anyway, and generally play well. That was a testament to his grit and understanding of the game. But he was not the same.
At times, it was sad. One time last year Carolina back Jonathan Stewart of Timberline High School ran through one of his tackles. Tatupu gamely bounced up and pursued, and the back ran him over a second time on the same play. It was a little bit heartbreaking to see such an accomplished player betrayed by his knees.
It still seems that the man’s leadership, heart and inspiration would be of value equivalent to his current salary, just as it would be with safety Lawyer Milloy. But that’s not how things work in the NFL. And on a rebuilding team, a sliding veteran takes snaps away from a young guy who might be on the rise.
Hawthorne has performed very well filling in for Tatupu at middle linebacker, but Tatupu’s impact on this team has always been bigger than his play on the field.
To go into a season without the leadership of Hasselbeck, Milloy and Tatupu makes this team vulnerable.
“Today was a hard day for the linebackers,” Hawthorne said.
Coach Pete Carroll pumped the “mutual” part of this, saying “we both feel good about it.”
Tatupu gave his body for the franchise. His value had declined, without dispute. Just say that. Don’t try to sell it as a feel-good story for everybody.
Because the release of a proud man like Tatupu doesn’t make anybody feel good.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 firstname.lastname@example.org