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Former NFL player Mosi Tatupu dies at 54

BOSTON - Mosi Tatupu, one of the most popular football players in New England Patriots history who was known for his inspired special-teams play, has died. He was 54.

Tatupu died Tuesday at Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro, Mass., hospital spokeswoman Ashley O'Brien said. The hospital could not disclose a cause of death.

"I know that I share a heavy heart today with Patriots fans everywhere who have learned of Mosi Tatupu's passing," team owner Robert Kraft said in a statement.

"He was a dominant special-teams player and a punishing rusher who loved the Patriots as much as the fans did," he said.

Tatupu was chosen by the Patriots in the eighth round of the 1978 NFL draft out of the University of Southern California and played 13 of his 14 NFL seasons with the team, wrapping up his career with the Los Angeles Rams in 1991.

The bruising 227-pound fullback rushed for 2,415 yards and 18 touchdowns, including a career best 578 yards in 1983. He thrived on snowy and icy fields, running for 128 yards on a snow-covered field in a win over New Orleans that season.

While never a superstar, Tatupu was beloved by Patriots fans for his play on kickoff and punt teams and even had his own cheering section known as "Mosi's Mooses." He was selected to the 1986 Pro Bowl as a special-teams player.

"As a teammate, he was one of the best," former Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan said. "He was one of those guys that made life fun whether it was in the locker room or on the practice fields. He had a smile that radiated." Tatupu was selected to New England's 50th anniversary team last season.

After he retired as a player, Tatupu was the head coach at King Philip Regional High School in Wrentham, Mass., where he coached his son Lofa, now a linebacker with the Seattle Seahawks.

He served as an assistant at Curry College in Milton, Mass., from 2002-2007, coaching running backs and special teams.

"Mosi was a vital part of the success of our program," said Vinnie Eruzione, athletic director at the Division III school. "There was no better guy."

Tatupu was born in Pago Pago, American Samoa, and was a school football star in Hawaii. His Hawaii high school career rushing record of 3,367 yards stood for 17 years, according to the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame Web site.

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