Tatupu's Biggest Critics Keep Coming Up Short

Lofa Tatupu was considered too small (5-11, 226) to play middle linebacker, but Seattle Coach Mike Holmgren took a chance:
Lofa Tatupu was considered too small (5-11, 226) to play middle linebacker, but Seattle Coach Mike Holmgren took a chance: "I know what I saw." (By Elaine Thompson -- Associated Press)

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By Greg Bishop
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, September 27, 2005

SEATTLE -- Lofa Tatupu leaves snippets of criticism lying around his house like a trail of motivational breadcrumbs. The Seahawks' middle linebacker scatters negative newspaper articles and college rejection letters all around so he can scan for "too small" while he's brushing his teeth and read "too slow" when he opens the fridge.

"I let my critics know that I appreciate them," Tatupu said.

Never short on doubters, but always short on size. That's the story of Lofa Tatupu's life.

That's why all those schools, including not-so mighty New Hampshire, decided Tatupu wouldn't fit. That's why critics deemed Pete Carroll crazy for securing Tatupu's transfer from Maine to USC. And that's why, when the Seahawks took Tatupu with the 45th pick in this year's draft, "reach" became the operative term for his selection.

Size matters in the NFL. Speed matters in the NFL. And here's the problem for a guy like Tatupu: his game is based on instinct, on getting to the ball as if his helmet comes with a navigation system, on being in the right place so often at the right time that it can't be shrugged off as coincidence.

Former Seahawks coach Chuck Knox said of the instinct, "football players make football plays in football games." It's a knack that pushed Tatupu right into the Seahawks' starting lineup. And it can't be quantified.

"If you didn't know his name or any of that other stuff, and you just said, 'Okay, watch number 51,' " Seahawks Coach Mike Holmgren said. "You'd look at the film and go, 'He's really good.' Well, yeah, but he's only 5-2, and he weighs 130 pounds. Then you'd go, 'That's probably not tall enough or big enough, but gee whiz, he can play football.

"I know what I saw. So you might take the shot. You might take the chance."

The Seahawks did. And Holmgren watched Tatupu in their first minicamp this spring, watched No. 51 -- who stands 5-feet-11 and weighs 226 pounds -- play middle linebacker with a savvy that far exceeded his age and experience.

Holmgren watched Tatupu, and he smiled the smile of a man who sees something he believes others may have missed.

He said: "I'm pretty sure I'm going to like this."

So here they are, same old Seahawks no longer, at least three games into this season. The Seahawks are 2-1 heading into their game at Washington this weekend. Tatupu has recorded 14 tackles, sacked Michael Vick and taken hold of a position that's never been stabilized since Holmgren took over in 1999.

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