Pio Sagapoluetele Passes

Sad news today as the still-young Browns alum passes away. Steve King recaps his career.

The Browns in the last several years have lost a number of their former players from their early teams -- men who are now in their late 70s and 80s.

But what's alarming is the fact they are also now seeing some of their younger alumni pass away.
The latest is Pio Sagapoluetele, just 39. Sagapolutele, defensive lineman who played on the last five original Browns teams from 1991-95 before the franchise moved to Baltimore, passed away late Sunday night in Arizona due to a heart attack and stroke. He apparently had moved to Phoenix recently from California.

Sagapolutele follows another defensive lineman, Ron Snidow, who died about three weeks ago. The 58-year-old played end for the Browns from 1968-72.

Pio Alika Sagapolutele, who was born and raised in Honolulu, went on to star at San Diego State and was taken at the top of the fourth round, at No. 85 overall, in the 1991 NFL Draft by Browns first-year head coach Bill Belichick. He is the second member of that draft class to have passed away. Top pick Eric Turner, a safety, died in 2000 at the age of 31.

Sagapolutele made an immediate impact as Belichick rebuilt the 3-13 team from 1990 that he inherited. He started eight of the last nine games of his rookie season at left end, getting 1.5 of the two sacks he would record during his Browns career, and made Pro Football Weekly's All-Rookie team.

However, he never started another game for the Browns as Rob Burnett and Anthony Pleasant, both from the draft class of 1990, settled in at end. But Sagapolutele had good size -- he was 6-foot-6 and 297 pounds -- and could play tackle as well, and he saw action there and at end as a reserve from 1992-95.

When Belichick got fired from the Browns following the 1995 season and went to New England as an assistant, he convinced head coach Bill Parcells to sign Sagapolutele. And it paid off, as he had the best year of his career with three sacks.

He then played the 1997 season with the New Orleans Saints, getting two more sacks to raise his career total to seven, before retiring.

"They don't make them any better than Pio," said Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio native Frank Stams, a linebacker who played with Sagapolutele in Cleveland from 1992-94 fully, and part of  '95. "You talk about a gentle giant. That was Pio. He was a soft-spoken guy who didn't have an enemy in the locker room. Everybody got along with him. He was a heckuva nice person.

"Even when he got yelled at by a coach, he just would get that sheepish grin on his face. He never got upset. I never saw him get upset.


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