Pisa Tinoisamoa wants no part of “the seats stuff” when the Los Angeles Rams take on the Dallas Cowboys at his old stomping ground.
“If it’s up to me, I’m somewhere on the sidelines. I want to see it up close and personal. Especially being Aloha Stadium,” the former Hawaii great and retired NFL linebacker told Hawaii Warrior World during an autograph session with fans on Friday.
Until this summer for a promotional event with the Rams — the franchise Tinoisamoa played six of his eight pro seasons with, albeit in St. Louis — he hadn’t been back since college in Manoa (2000-2002).
He’s made up for lost time in recent days as part of a whirlwind PR tour ahead of today’s 4 p.m. kickoff for the sold-out preseason game.
“(It’s been) too long, unfortunately. So that’s why I’m just soaking it up, being back,” Tinoisamoa said. “The whole thing is, Hawaii changes but not very much. And so it’s almost like how (it was) right when I left. It’s almost like going back to the future.” He chuckled.
Tinoisamoa was a hit with diehard fans clutching Warriors apparel or Rams jerseys bearing his No. 50, and random passers-by alike at Ward’s New Wave Friday community event. He went into overtime signing and posing before joining the Rams for an evening luau.
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The 38-year-old Oceanside, Calif., native couldn’t fathom that an NFL preseason game would be played here in this era. It’s been 43 years since the last one was played in Halawa between the San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers in 1976.
“Absolutely not. I don’t think anyone thought that,” he said. “I think we were probably waiting for the Pro Bowl to come back before an actual game. And this day and age, when they’re trying to grow the sport in other countries, I think Hawaii kind of almost gets forgotten about. Even myself, never thought or fathomed that a game would, an actual preseason game, would be here. So I’m just super pumped about that.”
In the time since his NFL career ended after the 2010 season with the Chicago Bears, much of his time has devoted to his family in California, being “Superdad” or “Uber-dad.” Lately he’s taken to helping coach high school football (right now at Mission Hills High in San Marcos).
“For me, that high school era was such an important time for me. So being able to do that and give back, and stay involved that way, that’s kind of my speed. Because I’ve been asked, ‘do you want to do pro, do you want to do college?’ Nah, I kind of like high school. That’s a good time, and I get to spend time with my family, obviously.”
Family was something he learned to cherish in his time in the islands when June Jones took a chance on him in his troubled youth. He was an award-winning player at San Diego’s Vista High School, but he’d served time in a juvenile probation facility for a felony assault conviction.
“I came here like a young punk kid. But Hawaii raised me up,” Tinoisamoa said. “It helped me learn respect, taught me how to love correctly, how to respect others correctly. I left here a man. A mature, awesome man, and that definitely helped me become the player I was in the NFL and the man I am for my family. So, coming back is easy because I know that I owe so much to this state, for taking me in, a troubled kid, and still loving on me and allowing me to embrace the culture and live aloha myself.”
His time in the islands allowed him to rehabilitate his image off the field as he succeeded on it, totaling 15.5 sacks among his 289 tackles, with six forced fumbles and a pair of interceptions. Tinoisamoa was an All-WAC pick at linebacker twice (second team in 2001, first team in 2002). He decided to enter the NFL Draft a year early.
In 2003, St. Louis Rams coach Mike Martz told the Associated Press: “We investigated that at length. He’s had no problems at Hawaii in the four years he’s been over there. I’m from the area (San Diego) he grew up. It has a reputation in some respects for gangs. He got caught up in a gang. But he was able to get out of it. And since he’s gotten out of it, he’s squared away. I don’t have any problems with him.”
Tinoisamoa rewarded by going in the second round, 43rd overall. (If those numbers sound familiar, another Hawaii linebacker, Jahlani Tavai, just went in the second round, at precisely No. 43 overall.)
He went on to post 486 tackles, 11 sacks and seven interceptions in the NFL.
He wasn’t back until now, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t following the progress of the Rainbow Warriors — especially now that his former teammates Nick Rolovich, Craig Stutzmann and Brian Smith — “Rolo, Stutz and Smitty” — have a direct hand in leading the ‘Bows.
Tinoisamoa spoke to the team in June.
“When you come here, I think it’s always, Hawaii is a part of you. Especially going school there and having some great years, I think we’d love to see it get back to those types of days,” Tinoisamoa said. “So I’m definitely optimistic about this season now that Rolo’s had a full (recruiting) class under him and Cole (quarterback McDonald) and the offense. The defense is stepping up, too. Jahlani gets drafted. So they got some good pieces.”
You can bet that when he prowls the Aloha Stadium sidelines, he’ll spare a thought or two to the time when that was him.
Here’s a couple more photos of Tinoisamoa in his playing days: