US Football Legends in NZ

Polynesian American football legends Jesse Sapolu and Ma’a Tanuvasa will feature in the upcoming Issue 68 of SPASIFIK magazine following their Polynesian Football of Fame Goodwill Tour of Samoa, New Zealand and Australia


Peseta Sam Lotu Iiga (centre) with Jesse Sapolu and Ma a Tanuvasa


US Football Legends in NZ


The duo spent three days in New Zealand visiting schools across Auckland with an education focus of encouraging local Polynesians to consider joining a sports programme in the USA.

Having established a Polynesian Football Hall of fame celebrating the pioneers in the game, Jesse Sapolu, who won four Super Bowl rings for the San Francisco 49ers over 12 seasons and was named an All-Pro twice, says they’re now in a position where they can look beyond the United States to identify young Polynesians with the potential to play in the NFL.

“We see a lot of Polynesian athletes in places like Auckland, Samoa and Australia’s pretty hot right now,” says Sapolu, who was last in New Zealand in the 1990s.


Jesse and Ma a with attendees at the Post-Budget breakfast for Pacific community leaders


“We know rugby is the main game, but if you’re 270 pounds (122kg), you’re too big to play at professional level. But you could still be standout out in American football.”

The protocol in American sports is for talented athletes to go to university before getting drafted. Jesse says even if they don’t make it, the worse they could do is come back with a university degree.

“With that, you’re already ahead of the game whether you make the pros or not.”

Jesse and Ma a with attendees at the Post-Budget breakfast for Pacific community leaders


As a former defensive end for the Univer¬sity of Hawaii, Ma’a was drafted into Los Angeles Rams in 1993. He is a Two-Time Su¬per Bowl Champion as a member of the Denver Broncos and was inducted into the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.

“We have enough Polynesian players in the NFL, more than 60, to make our own football team,” says Ma’a. “There are a number of Kiwis who have already made it in the NFL, including Mark Nua (Detroit Lions, San Diego Chargers), Rikki Ellison (a teammate of Jesse at the 49ers) and David Dixon (Minnesota Vikings).”

Jesse and Ma a with SPASIFIK magazines to take home on their travels


While in their whirlwind trip to Auckland, the group also made a surprise visit and met Pacific community leaders at a post-Budget breakfast at the Waipuna Hotel in Panmure. They met Hon Minister Peseta Sam Lotu Iiga, the Minister of Local Government, Minister for Ethnic Communities, Minister for Pacific Peoples, and Associate Minister of Health and MP for Maungakiekie. Peseta admitted to them he’s also a self-confessed New York Jets fan.

Their visit to New Zealand was hosted by Jason Vaka of 7T5 Sports, which arranged a powhiri at the airport on their arrival, media commitments, school visits and a photo session at Eden Park. The week following they hosted a football camp at the Kolmar Sports complex in Papatoetoe, South Auckland, which was open to locals from age 15-19.


SPASIFIK Issue 68 is out in September.