The Polynesian Football Hall of Fame (PFHOF) enshrined the Class of 2019 in their permanent display at the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) on January 19, 2019 and recognized several other honorees.
PCC president and CEO Alfred Grace welcomed all the honorees to the Center and pointed out our partnership with the PFHOF has been a natural fit since the inaugural Class of 2014.
“Congratulations to all of you,” he said. “In acknowledging you, I acknowledge all of our Polynesian people who excel in every worthy endeavor they take on.
“For 55 years we pride ourselves for presenting, portraying and perpetuating the cultures throughout Polynesia. We see that as being similar to what you men have done. You’ve excelled on the field of sports,” Grace said. “What I also see as being similar are the values that we all hold dear, whether it be in a village here, back home in the islands, or on the field playing football. It is a matter of sticking together and representing our families, including our parents, those who have gone before us and who will come after us.”
PFHOF inductee, program master of ceremonies and board member Vai Sikahema added, “One of the reasons we wanted the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame here is because we want our Polynesian youth to understand the history, culture and what it took for so many of these all-time greats to be enshrined here.”
Enshrinement program honors achievements, motivations
During the special program that day in the PCC’s Hawaiian Journey Theater, the PFHOF presented the Class of 2019 athletes with a customized jacket and Hall of Fame ring, featured their achievements on the gridiron, and gave them the opportunity to speak about what and who motivated them to reach the pinnacles in their sport.
“There’s no question Polynesians have had a big impact on pro football,” Sikahema said. “But these honors are also completely different because we celebrate our culture and our heritage. That’s what makes being in the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame so special and unique.”
The Class of 2019 legends
♦ Dan Saleaumua (Samoan) grew up in San Diego, CA, played for Arizona State, and spent a 12-year NFL DL career mostly with the Kansas City Chiefs. His 18 fumble recoveries is still a Chiefs’ record. Since then he’s been an entrepreneur and involved with local charitable causes.
Saleaumua, who has lots of personality, first thanked the PFHOF for selecting him, then his family and friends. “Everything I’ve done up to this date, I’ve always had somebody from my family and friends with me. This journey I’ve been on was not by myself,” he said.
“You have to be accountable,” he said of his days since football. “I was fortunate to be where I am today because of the way I was brought up, with discipline and respect — all the things that Polynesian kids grow up with. At the time, they’re preparing you for life.”
♦ Joe Salave’a (Samoan), from Leone, American Samoa, then Oceanside, CA, then University of Arizona DL, and he played in 100 games during his eight years in the pros. His work since with the Joe Salave’a Foundation once got him invited to the White House.
Saying he would be remiss if he didn’t say a few words in Samoan, Salave’a first thanked the PFHOF selection committee, and then he thanked God. Switching to English, he said, “To stand before you is for me a combination of a community of people.” He recognized his parents for their sacrifices and start, and his own family, saying, “I always try to be the best husband and father. That’s important as we venture into being teachers and coaches to so many.”
He also thanked “all my coaches, who really pushed us,” and his grandmother, “one of my spiritual coaches.”
♦ Lofa Tatupu (Samoan; his father, Mosi Tatupu, is also a PFHOF inductee), grew up in Maine, where he played quarterback with his father as coach, went on to play defense for USC, then for the Seattle Seahawks. Though his NFL career was cut short by injuries, he left an impressive record of achievements.
Tatupu called his family up to stand with him, and said, “This moment is every bit yours as it is mine. Your sacrifices made this possible. I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you who helped me focus on my craft. I’m going to continue to do my part and try to lead by example.”
♦ Marques Tuiasosopo (Samoan), the first Division I quarterback (University of Washington) to pass for at least 300 yards and rush for another 200 yards in the same game. He was the 2001 Rose Bowl MVP and went on to play for eight years in the NFL, seven of them with the Oakland Raiders.
Like the others, Tuiasosopo thanked God, “because before football and anything else, that’s where it started and ends. God has blessed me immensely, and the honor goes to Him, not me.” He also thanked his parents and grandma, “although I have to admit as a little kid I never understood why she had to pray for 45 minutes.” (Many in the audience who had similar experiences laughed.)
Like the others, Tuiasosopo thanked the selection committee. “It’s humbling and a tremendous honor to be selected, although in my mind you’re not honoring me but validating all the teams that I was on. My teammates are up here with me in spirit.”
Others recognized and honored during the enshrinement
Sikahema shared the following thought from his wife — Keala Heder, a former Polynesian Cultural Center performer — during the banquet in Waikiki the night before, who said, “When I see these men play on Saturdays, they are warriors; but when I meet them, they are so tender and humble.”
“That’s one of the leading features of being a Polynesian football player,” he said. “There’s power that comes from our culture and our faith. It’s been a great pleasure to get to know these guys. We love each other.”
During the program, Sikahema also singled out several others in the audience, including:
♦ 2018 Polynesian College Football Player of the Year:University of Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, a Samoan from Ewa Beach, Oahu.
♦ 2018 Polynesian pro football player of the year: JuJu Smith Schuster (Samoan), Pittsburg Steelers.
♦ Past inductees and board members: Jesse Sapolu and Ray Schoenke (2015), Ma’a Tanuvasa (2017), Manu Tuiasosopo (2018); and Reno Mahe, PFHOF board member.
♦ 2019 Founders Award honorees“who really help us fulfill our mission of the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame to acknowledge, honor and preserve the history of contributions Polynesians have made in the great American game of football”: Debbie Weil-Manuma and Corbett Kalama.
♦ And he noted that the 2018 Polynesian high school honors went to Taulia Tagovailoa, Tua Tagovailoa’s younger brother who now plays quarterback for Thompson High School in Alabama; and Puka Nacua, Orem High School (Utah) wide receiver.
Historical Polynesian players recognition
Finally, Sikahema singled out several historical achievements by Polynesians in football, including:
- The first Polynesian to play in the National Football League: Al Lolotai of Laie, 1945, the Washington Redskins.
- The first Polynesian to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, Herman Wedemeyer, 1979.
- The first Polynesian to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Junior Seau, 2015.
- The first Polynesian to win a Heisman Trophy: Marcus Mariota, 2015.
- The first Polynesian to be named MVP of a national college football championship team: Tua Tagovailoa, 2018.
Click here to read about Tua Tagovailoa, recognized as this year’s College Polynesian Football Hall of Year most outstanding player
Story by Mike Foley, who has been a full-time freelance writer and digital media specialist since 2002. Prior to then, he had a long career in marketing communications, PR, journalism and university education. The Polynesian Cultural Center has used his photos for promotional purposes since the early 1970s. Foley learned to speak fluent Samoan as a Latter-day Saint missionary before moving to Laie in 1967, and he still does. He has traveled extensively over the years throughout Polynesia, other Pacific islands and Asia. Though nearly retired now, Foley continues to contribute to PCC and other media.