In the '20s and '30s, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant football fans were stunned by the emergence of a generation of players whose antecedents were mysterious and whose names—Nagurski, Wojcie-chowicz, Oosterbaan, Skladany—when they first appeared in newspaper headlines, seemed to be the products of a berserk compositor. Nothing quite like it has happened since (the black boom in the college game was cushioned by familiar names—Buddy Young, Jim Brown, Lenny Moore). But this fall a comparable cultural shock could be in the making.
What is coming on is a swarm of Polynesian warriors—not your run-of-the-reef, gin mill flamethrowers, but strong, fierce men, six to seven feet tall, who seem to have stepped into the 20th century from some secret museum of oceanic antiquities. As, in fact, they have. The museum is a tiny (76 square miles) island cluster in the deep South Seas called American Samoa. Not only is it the least known and most remote of U.S. territories, but, together with Western Samoa, it also is the only island group where the Polynesian culture—and the Polynesian race—has survived virtually intact.
Until the 1950s, few Samoans ever left home, but among those who did a good many made their mark—some in football. Packard Harrington, for example, starred for St. Mary's of Moraga ( Calif.) in the late '30s and Al Harrington (no kin) made a name for himself at Stanford two decades later. They both said they were Samoans, but what was that? Even if Al had abided by Samoan custom and gone by his matriarchal name—which is Taa—he would have been lumped with Charley Ane, an All-Pro center for the Detroit Lions, Famika Anae, a varsity center for Brigham Young, and Al Lolotai, a Washington Redskin guard in the Sammy Baugh era, as just another "Hawaiian." Lolotai reluctantly surrendered to this cultural disfranchisement by wrestling professionally under the name of "Sweet Leilani."
But this time there will be no ethnic surrenders. The new Samoans are coming in sufficient force to command attention, and in a half-dozen Western colleges and universities—USC, UCLA, San Jose State, Brigham Young, San Diego State and Hawaii—are proudly proclaiming their true identity.
Nearly all of these Samoan players were born in California or Hawaii, or were brought there as young children. Many Samoans emigrated after the U.S. Navy closed its Pago Pago base in 1951, not because they wanted to leave but because the loss of the Navy payroll created an economic crisis. Few could speak English and most brought little with them except their kids, their physical prowess and their Polynesian pride. Condemned to the slums by poverty and the language barrier, the Samoans had a rough time. But the pride never wavered, the kids are college age now and they are out to beat what Al Harrington calls "the great white race," not truckle to it.
The young Samoans preparing for the coming season are acutely aware that they are more than football players—they are missionaries for fa'a Samoa, the Samoan way of life. As their coaches already know, if you ask a Samoan to run five miles, he'll run 10; if you ask him to take out an opponent, he is apt to take him clear out of the stadium.
The man cast for the Billy Graham role in this football crusade is a 225-pound, six-foot USC fullback named Mosi Tatupu, out of Pago Pago by way of Honolulu's Punahou High School. Tatupu became the Trojans' starting fullback last fall after Dave Farmer broke his leg, and he not only carried the ball 416 yards but also did most of the blocking that enabled Ricky Bell to assemble a near-record 1,875 yards rushing. "In South Bend last fall," Tatupu recalls, "the people put signs up in our hotel that said RING RICKY'S BELL. Well, they didn't ring it." The Trojans, in the midst of a lackluster season, whipped Notre Dame 24-17, partly because of Samoan Power.
If the way to catch a thief is to be one, the way to stop a Samoan may be to put another Samoan, or better yet, two Samoans, against him—or so the Rose Bowl champion UCLA Bruins hope. When UCLA confronts USC this November, new Coach Terry Donahue will have Linebacker Manu Tuiasosopo and Defensive Tackle Pete Pele waiting for Mosi and Ricky, and a third Samoan, Anthony Paopao, to carry the ball after the defense has done its work.
Although most of the other Pac-Eight schools have tried to make Samoan connections in recent years, none of their acquisitions was significant. But the WAC and the PCAA had better luck—or made better offers. Long Beach State will field Joe Paopao (Anthony's older brother) and Long Beach City College has a promising freshman named Samoa Samoa. Wilson Faumuina is ready for another big year at San Jose State and Ed Imo will be in action for San Diego State. Even an occasional Western Samoan finds his way to U.S. football, e.g., Mekeli Ieremia, who will join Neal Ane (youngest son of former Detroit Lion Charley) and other American Samoans on the Brigham Young squad. Arizona State Coach Frank Kush, who knows all about Samoans, made a strenuous effort last year to recruit Honolulu high school star Tom Tuinei, but Tuinei was captured by the University of Hawaii (which has awakened to the treasure in its midst).
The Samoan surge has been in the making for a decade. In the mid-'60s Bob Apisa tore up the Big Ten for Duffy Daugherty at Michigan State, but he was linked—in the headlines and the public mind—with his Hawaiian teammate Dick Kenney as "The Hawaiian Punch." Although Apisa was an All-America as a sophomore, only two schools seem to have attached much importance to the fact that he was born in Pago Pago. The University of Montana recruited Tuufuli Uperesa (who in 1968-69 made All-Conference in the Big Sky and for the past 3/2 years has played in the Canadian Football League) and, in 1968, the aforementioned Frank Kush pounced on the star of Honolulu's Kahuku High team, a 6'2", 218-pound holy Mormon terror named Junior Ah You. Nobody looks more like a Polynesian warrior than Junior—he has a body-builder's physique, smoky eyes flanking a hawk nose in a high-cheekboned face, a Fu Manchu mustache embracing a mobile mouth full of flashing white teeth—and nobody's name sounds less like one. Ah You? Junior Ah You? A waiter, or a busboy, maybe, helping out in his father's Chinese restaurant?