Sunday, March 28, 2010

Manumaleuna Owes Succes to Dad

You can't tell Brandon Manumaleuna's story without starting with his father, because the proud Samoan football legacy that Brandon brings to Chicago starts with him. So, before you can begin to know the mammoth tight end the Bears signed on the first day of free agency, you first must realize what happened at Neyland Stadium on Sept. 7, 1974.

Less than a month after President Nixon resigned, UCLA linebacker Frank Manumaleuna was named Chevrolet Player of the Game after being credited with 25 tackles in a 17-17 tie with Tennessee. But that isn't the most amazing part. What makes it such a memorable performance even after all these years is that Frank was a true freshman playing in his first collegiate game.

Sadly, it also would be his second-to-last -- or so it seemed after the devastating diagnosis of a spinal condition.

''He was the finest linebacker I ever coached at any level,'' ex-UCLA and longtime former NFL coach Dick Vermeil said. ''He was physically mature as a freshman and a gifted athlete. He was unbelievably graceful -- but when he hit you, you went down. He was so strong, he didn't even flinch. He would've been an All-Pro linebacker.''

Today, it's Brandon, the son, who is having the type of career his father never had. Manumaleuna is the sort of tight end who rarely shows up in final statistics. At 6-2, 295 pounds, he was brought in primarily to help protect quarterback Jay Cutler and add toughness to the Bears' running game. The toughness he brings, and the perseverance that has allowed him to be an impact player despite averaging 12 catches per season during his nine-year career, is rooted in his father and the South Pacific islands of his ancestors.

''I would hear about him from other people when they found out who I was,'' Brandon said of his father. ''But he never talked about [his football career].''

NFL and college football players haven't always been American Samoa's leading export. Frank was one of the pioneers. He was 6 when his family moved to Southern California to be closer to a Shriners Hospital because Frank's older brother, John, had been disabled by polio. Despite the handicap, ''Big John'' became a mentor to kids in the neighborhoods where many Polynesians settled.

He urged Frank and others to use football as a means of obtaining a free education. Frank's talent made it an easy choice. He was one of the top recruits in the country when he chose UCLA.

''He lined up with the fourth team on his first day in pads as a freshman,'' said Dick Tomey, who coached Frank as a UCLA assistant and later coached Brandon at Arizona. ''After that practice, all the guys who played his position went to see [Vermeil] because they wanted to play another position. They realized this guy was tremendous.''

He suffered what he thought was a harmless stinger against Tennessee. Then it happened again. He would be diagnosed with what then was described as a congenital deformity of the spine, not unlike spinal stenosis. Because of the risk of paralysis, UCLA doctors would not clear him to play. His career appeared over.

''I thought it was a regular pinched nerve,'' Frank said. ''I had them in high school and kept playing. In the second game it happened again, and that's when they got serious. I thought I would sit out and get better, but as time went on I kept going to all these doctors and neurosurgeons. I got down. My parents said football wasn't important. They wanted me to go to school, but I wanted to play.''

His desire to play never waned. Unbeknownst to their parents, ''Big John'' later helped enroll him in a junior college, where he resumed his career. San Jose State later cleared him to play as long as he wore equipment that kept his head immobilized. Frank went on to become one of San Jose State's all-time greats, and although he played for the Chiefs for three seasons, those who remembered how he performed that day against the Volunteers said the apparatus he had to wear to protect himself robbed him of much of his athleticism.

''He was never the same,'' Vermeil said.

You won't hear any bitterness in Frank's voice when he talks about the career he wishes he had, and he's not reliving his dream through Brandon -- not while he had 10 other children to raise, including five boys who played football at the high school level.

He's just glad Brandon has received the opportunity to play uninhibited by straps, collars and the constant fear of a life-threatening injury.

He's just thankful his son is having the type of career he was denied.

''I did whatever I could just to have the opportunity to play at that level,'' Frank said. ''Looking back on it now, it could've been great if [the injury] never would have happened.''

Full Article


  1. I saw Frank Manumaleuna play at San Jose State--he was still a great athlete though I can't compare to what he was before the spinal issue- I didn't see the UCLA game

    He was a dominant linebacker in what was then the PCAA (Pacific Coast Athletic Association was San Jose St's league back then) I think he was PCAA defensive player of the year. He was a power oriented player but a great athlete in that he had great balance and body control great foot-hand coordination played low with a real wide base. He probably didn't run super fast for like 40 yard dash stuff, he wasn't a twitchy type but he was very fluid in all directions didn't show any stiffness and always in control.

    They called him the "Mowin' Samoan" it was the same time Jack Thompson the QB at Wash St was the "Throwin' Samoan". He was very powerful and demolished opponents he had great instincts and very positive to the ball, he would go through a pile of players right to ballcarrier he was very explosive on impact and always in perfect position for shedding and tackling and perfectly balanced. He was really smart and hard to fool no false steps. Sideline to sideline range and he was good against the pass - could drop and play the ball. He made some big interceptions and great runbacks--great power runner with amazing balance

    He was drafted in round 4 but easily would have gone no later than round 2 if the possibility of a catastrophic neck injury wasn't an issue, and I suspect that pre-injury has was much better still

    He was an immediate hit in the NFL as a rookie and second year player and then the neck issue came up and cut his NFL career short

    1. He also went by the last name Manumaleuga it's all the same player

    2. NFL 1980 interception returned for TD by Frank Manumaleuna on you tube

      as you can see, still had a lot of athletic ability even after the spinal injury

    3. Manumaleuna was PCAA defensive most valuable player of the year 1978 at least and maybe 1977 as well. He was all PCAA both years he played at SJSU

    4. Last year [1977--this is a article from '78]he received certificates for all sorts of things: first-team All-PCAA, secondteam, All-Coast, SJS defensive player of the year, among others.