Two-year-old Noa has influential powers on his 6-foot-3, 350-pound father Ed Ta’amu.
Ta’amu, as many Spokane Shock fans know, was a key in-season addition to the inaugural 2006 team that went on to capture the ArenaCup. After two years with AFL Kansas City and an idle season in 2009 when the AFL was out of business, Ta’amu was kicking around the idea of continuing his career.
The positives: Playing in Spokane again. Playing with 2006 quarterback Kyle Rowley and receiver Raul Vijil. Playing for ’06 offensive line coach Travis Crusenberry and ’06 defensive back Rob Keefe, now the head coach. Playing in front of girlfriend Jessica Scott and her family again.
The deal-clincher: AlofaTunoa, or “Noa” for short.
“He was the biggest part,” Ta’amu said of Noa, who recently celebrated his second birthday with a party at the Shock practice facility. “I felt at 30 I might have been a little too old to continue playing and it was taking awhile for my body to recover. But it was a mutual decision with my girlfriend and me, because of our son. I have to check in and make decisions that are good for the family.
“He understands now Daddy is playing football, Grandpa plays hockey, Mommy and Auntie play soccer. It was my thing to give back because the whole family is into sports and you don’t want to have a kid grow up and think that Dad is lazy, right?”
A balky back kept Ta’amu on injured reserve for the first five games, but he’s been stellar since entering the lineup against Oklahoma City a month ago. Keefe said Ta’amu is the team’s best lineman. Rowley said Ta’amu’s presence gives him one less thing to worry about.
“His hair has changed,” Rowley said of 2006 Ta’amu and present-day Ta’amu. “I think he had a buzz cut, now he’s rockin’ the long hair. He still has the same dry sense of humor. He’s one of the great guys to have in your locker room, never mind that he’s a special talent. I don’t have to worry with Ed there. We’ve had some fluctuations with injuries up front and at fullback. It’s good that Ed is becoming more of a mainstay.”
Ta’amu, who grew up in Hawaii and played at the University of Utah, was drafted in the fourth round by the Minnesota Vikings in 2002. He was on the AFL Utah Blaze’s practice squad and at season’s end head coach Danny White told him he needed more experience.
“I happened to get a call when I walked out of his office from (Shock majority owner) Brady Nelson,” Ta’amu said.
It was a toss-up between Spokane and Memphis, which won the 2005 ArenaCup.
“According to Memphis, none of the West Coast teams could win an ArenaCup, they thought arena was an East Coast game,” Ta’amu said. “I’d rather be the underdog than the favorite all the time.”
He picked Spokane – and that seems to have worked out. The team won a championship. He was introduced, by Keefe’s girlfriend, to Jessica and the two have been inseparable. Ta’amu works for Jessica’s family, which operates an outdoor cookware business. He moved on to Kansas in the AFL in 2007-08, but his offseason home remained Spokane.
“This is where it started for me,” Ta’amu said. “I thought this might as well be the place for it to end and to help out Keefe, he was such a big part of our 2006 team, and be with Coach Crusenberry.”
Ta’amu is something of a gentle giant, but he takes enormous pride in doing his job. He demonstrated both qualities earlier this season after discovering an error in his morning paper.
“Mr. Meehan,” he said softly, after Spokane had routed Utah. “You put in the paper that I gave up a sack against Oklahoma City.”
“Yeah,” came the reply.
“That wasn’t me,” a smiling Ta’amu said.
“I could have sworn it was, but I’ll check on it.”
After checking around, it was clear Ta’amu wasn’t at fault. The sack was allowed by a lineman who soon became an ex-teammate.
“Eddie’s only given up one sack in the four years he’s played for me,” Crusenberry confirmed.
When was that?
“In Arkansas in 2006,” said Ta’amu, a tad irked by the memory. “All game I thought I owned the guy. The one time he stood straight up, I was like, ‘OK, he’s not coming.’ I stood straight up and boom, right then he goes by me. I was upset. He felt the wrath after that.”
This will probably be Ta’amu’s last season, with Jessica planning on returning to school in Hawaii or Los Angeles. He’s intent on enjoying every minute, particularly home games.
“When we pull into the parking lot at the Arena, Noa knows it’s either hockey or football,” Ta’amu said. “Every time he sees football on TV he thinks I’m playing. Sometimes he gets that crazy look like, ‘What are you doing here, Dad?’ And I say, ‘Sorry Son, it’s a replay.’”
A good one, at that.