Friday, October 15, 2010

Arizona Cardinals' Deuce Lutui Sees His Stock Rising

Deuce Lutui has a reputation. He talks smack. He gets his hands dirty.

He'll hit you in the mouth, and then pat himself on the back.

"The physical part of the game is mine," he said.

After summering in Ken Whisenhunt's doghouse, Lutui has found his juju, and has quickly re-established his place in the room. He's the best offensive lineman on the Cardinals, and should be next on the list of contract extensions. Guys like Lutui - characters obsessed with their own character - are hard to find in the NFL.

"I know what I'm all about," Lutui said. "Deuce Lutui is about integrity. A competitor. A Tongan."

As you'll discover, his heritage is very important.

Technically, Lutui is homegrown, a huge kid known as "Titus" when he attended Mesa High School. He is also from Tonga, the only island nation in the South Pacific never brought under foreign rule, a place where the people come super-sized and men can carry their weight in stone.

At the mere mention of these proud people, Lutui becomes swollen with pride. And in a display of Tongan fury, he reaches to his right, picks up a neighboring stool and flings it across the locker room.

The chair tumbles to a harmless stop. A teammate begins howling with laughter.

"The history of Tongan people, we were warriors!" Lutui continues. "We were the Vikings of the South Pacific, the pearl of Polynesia. I come from the Kingdom of Tonga! That means, when I'm Tongan to the 'T,' I'm Tongan to the death! I'm a Lutui, and I come from a tiny nation, a dot in the middle of the map. Even if you look, you might miss it."

Lutui could be a professional wrestler, and in some ways, he already is. He is comical and self-inflated. He knows all the little tricks and will fight to the echo of the whistle, all day long. Mostly, he makes his teammates smile.

"Deuce, you're playing like this because you want a new contract right?" teases wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who has wandered over for a visit. "Is that what this is all about?"

Fitzgerald bounces away laughing.

"Man, I want to kick his ass," Lutui said.Lutui has made big strides in recent months, after tipping the scales at 396 pounds. Back then, he was unhappy with his tendered offer from the Cardinals, a one-year contract worth $1.7 million. After the team signed two other guards - Rex Hadnot and Alan Faneca - Lutui wondered why he couldn't get a long-term deal. Friends also say he endured a rough offseason, reeling emotionally from the death of his father.

"It was definitely on my mind," Lutui said.

By the time he arrived in Flagstaff, Big Deuce was on tenuous ground. But he began to shed the weight. He did the job, and regained his job. Through five games, Lutui has played hard and well, avoiding all the unnecessary penalty flags he frequently earned for delivering the last shot. And if you listen carefully, no one is mentioning the weight thing anymore.

At least until Lutui stepped on poor Max Hall's foot during Sunday's win over the Saints, forcing the young quarterback to wince in pain. Up in the broadcast booth, Kurt Warner actually grimaced on the air, having experienced such trauma firsthand.

"Deucey, he's a big guy. I think he weighs 450 pounds," Hall cracked. "He got me pretty good, so that one hurt. I try not to show pain, but that one took me a second."

Hall shook it off. And as we've all discovered, you just can't stay mad at Lutui.

"I've handled the distractions, and my stock is escalating," Lutui said. "I've got a master Jedi in a coach, and I'm a young Luke Skywalker. Russ Grimm is Master Yoda, and I will be a Jedi. I will be a Jedi knight one day, and I will get light saber."

With a serious face, Lutui holds the imaginary weapon over his shoulder, as if he's ready to take on Darth Vader.

"And then I'm slicing," he said.

A Jedi Tongan with a mean streak? You better run, son.

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