In the third quarter of the 1986 AFC Divisional playoff game against the Los Angeles Raiders, the late Mosi Tatupu’s biggest play as a Patriot came during New England’s first Super Bowl run.
With the game tied 20-20, Tatupu laid a crushing hit on kick returner Sam Seale to force a fumble, which was recovered in the end zone by Jim Bowman of the Patriots, clinching the victory and the first AFC title game in franchise history.
It was special team plays like that against the Raiders that exemplified the never-give-up attitude and hard-nose football career of Tatupu in New England. He was a solid football player who did whatever he could to help his team win.
Patriots’ receiver Wes Welker, a recipient of the 2003 Mosi Tatupu Award, presented annually to the College Football Special Teams Player of the Year, said, “Mosi Tatupu was one of the first truly great special teams players. He set the stage for a lot of us to follow. It was an honor to win a special teams award in his name back in 2003 and then have the opportunity to meet him here in New England.” From 1997 through 2006, the Mosi Tatupu Award was given annually to the College Football Special Teams Player of the Year.
Welker, along with the rest of Patriots’ nation was saddened recently when Tatupu, one of the most beloved Patriots players of all-time, died suddenly. Tatupu was a 6-foot-227-pound stalwart blocker and runner, who dominated on special teams. He died at Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro last month. He was 54.
“As a Patriot, I have learned even more about the impact that Mosi had on this franchise and in this community,” said Welker. “He will be sadly missed. My heart goes out to his family.”
Tatupu’s impact on the field went beyond special teams. Before the Patriots had the fullback carousel of Marc Edwards, Larry Centers, Sam Gash, Keith Byers and Heath Evans during the last 15 years, for more than a decade there was Mosi Tatupu patrolling the Patriots backfield in the 80’s.
Tatupu played for the Patriots from 1978-90 and is ranked 13th all-time on the club’s rushing list with 2,415 yards, averaging 3.95 yards a carry (seventh all-time) and rushing for 18 touchdowns. He was ranked seventh on the rushing list after his last season with the Patriots. He also helped open holes as a lead blocker for three, one thousand yard rushers: Tony Collins in 1983, Craig James in 1985, and John Stephens in 1988.
“As a teammate, he was one of the best,” former Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan. “He was one of those guys that made life fun whether it was in the locker room or on the practice fields.
“He had a smile that radiated,” said Grogan. “The fans appreciated him because he was a lunch-pail kind of guy and did whatever was asked of him — whether it was on special teams, on the goal line, in blocking or catching situations. I think Patriots fans really appreciated that.”
Tatupu achieved cult hero status all throughout his tenure. There was even an entire section named “Mosi's Mooses” at Foxboro Stadium. “They are great fans, but just to have your own section is an honor," said Tatupu in a 2004 interview with Boston.com. "I am sure if everybody had their own fan section like I did they would play just as hard as I tried to play. It inspired me to play harder because they were cheering for me and backing me up.”
As a result of his hard play, Tatupu was awarded the Unsung Hero Award by the Patriots’ Huddle in 1986 and he was named Special Teams Player of the Year by the 1776 QB Fan Club in 1985. He was also recognized by his peers. He was voted captain of the special teams in 1986 and was named All Pro for special teams by Pro Football Weekly, was named to the UPI-All AFC team, and was chosen as an all-pro by the Associated Press. He also made the Pro Bowl on special teams in 1986 and was the first special team alternate in 1985 and second alternate in 1984.
In 1994, a panel of local media members selected Tatupu to be a member of the 35th Anniversary Patriots Team as a special teams player and is a Patriots 50th Anniversary Team honoree. He’s currently third on the club’s all-time list for games played with 194.
The entire Patriots Nation is mourning a true Patriots warrior.
“I know that I share a heavy heart today with Patriots fans everywhere,” said Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft in a press release following the news. “I was shocked by the news this morning. My sons and I loved to watch Mosi. He was one of our favorite players for more than a decade. I don't think you could watch a Patriots game in the ‘80s without becoming a fan of his. He was a dominant special teams player and a punishing rusher who loved the Patriots as much as the fans did. He gave everything that he had on every play and immediately became a fan favorite.”
Those who knew Tatupu the best, his former teammates, will remember him fondly and will miss him the most.
Patriots Hall of Fame receiver Stanley Morgan said, “There was only one Mosi. I first met Mosi the year after I came to the Patriots, when he got here in 1978 and it was love at first sight I guess you could say. He got along great with everybody. He had that air about him that you were comfortable around him all the time and nobody was a stranger around him. People were attracted to that.”
Patriots 1980s All-Decade center Peter Brock said, “The thing about Mosi was that he did everything. He wasn't the glamour guy out in front, getting all the carries, he just played football and he played hard. A lot of people remember the ‘Snow Plow Game' and, of course, John Smith's kick won it, but it was Mosi, who ran for more than 100 yards that day, that really won that game. It's really a shock and it's so much tougher because we played before the era of free agency, so you really got to know everybody. We were a community. We raised our children together. Because of that it's just like losing a family member.”
Patriots and Pro Football Hall of Fame LB Andre Tippett said, “You probably couldn't ask for a better teammate than Mosi. It was the way he approached the game. He worked hard. He practiced hard. He had a way about him. He always had an upbeat attitude, he was happy all the time and just pleasant to be around. He had a special connection with the fans and his teammates. Everybody loved him.”
Kevin Saleeba is a frequent contributor and columnist to Patriots Insider. A former New England beat writer, Kevin has extensive knowledge of the team and experience covering the Patriots. Share your thoughts on this article, or send your questions to Kevin here.