Too bad Hawks’ practice isn’t until this afternoon. Reports from last night that Lofa Tatupu had been asked to restructure his contract and that he had asked for his release were surely unsettling to many fans. Developments will shake out this morning and we’ll see ourselves at practice.
The move was hardly unforeseen, but the results might be, nonetheless, jolting. I have the impression that half the residents of western Washington are in possession of a Tatupu jersey. What was not to like, after all? Here was an undersized guy who became a true leader on this team the minute he stepped on the field. Seriously. Some Seahawks players talked about his presence and instincts showing from his very first day.
In the locker room, there was nobody more reluctant to talk about himself or more eager to talk about a teammate. One of the great stories from the year he was out with a torn pec muscle, was the way he came in to every meeting, and put in extra time in the film room, trying to help David Hawthorne learn the position. That, fans, is amazing dedication to the team.
A warrior in the athletic context? Goodness yes. The man always played hurt. And that became part of the problem, he rarely played when he wasn’t hurt. I remember the 2005 game against Carolina for the NFC title when he and DeShaun Foster (wasn’t it?) both were flattened on the turf by an enormous Tatupu hit. I think that hit affected Tatupu, and it seemed that the next year he started playing with more concern for his body. Last year, he would sit out most practices during the week, and come out and play in the game anyway, and generally play well. That was a testament to his grit and understanding of the game. He was not the same linebacker he had been, of course. At times, it was sad. I recall one time off the top of my head, when a back (Jonathan Stewart, perhaps) ran through one of his tackles. Tatupu gamely bounced up and pursued, and the back ran him over a second time on the same play. It was a little bit heartbreaking.
It still seems that the man’s leadership, heart and inspiration would be of value equivalent to his current salary, just as it would be with Lawyer Milloy. But that’s not how things work in the NFL.
We’ll soon know for certain if reports of Tatupu’s release are accurate. Hawthorne has done very well filling in for Tatupu at middle linebacker, but Tatupu’s impact on this team has always been bigger than that. To go into a season without the leadership of Matt Hasselbeck, Milloy and possibly now Tatupu is a daunting task. Some guys are going to have to step up in big ways.