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Originally published Tuesday, December 6, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Tatupu showcases his game

For a guy who isn't big on drawing attention to himself — not to mention a guy who isn't that big, period — Lofa Tatupu shined...

Seattle Times staff reporter

PHILADELPHIA — For a guy who isn't big on drawing attention to himself — not to mention a guy who isn't that big, period — Lofa Tatupu shined a national-sized magnifying glass on his most productive game in the NFL.

It happened on "Monday Night Football." In the first half of a game long over before the second half started. Long over in large part because of an undersized middle linebacker the Seahawks supposedly reached to draft in the second round last April.

But that's old news — Lofa Tatupu, The Little Engine That Could, the too-slow linebacker few colleges wanted out of high school. The too-small linebacker who transferred from Maine to his father's alma mater, USC, and raised eyebrows leaving a year early for the NFL.

New news is that Lofa Tatupu went national Monday night. As in, this-guy-is-for-real national, the-Seahawks-finally-found-a-standout-middle-linebacker national, and front-runner-for-defensive-rookie-of-the-year national.

"Maybe I opened up some eyes," Tatupu said.

"Maybe he won rookie of the year with that performance," fellow linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski said.

And maybe football fans who didn't know about Tatupu before Monday night certainly will catch his one-game highlight reel in the days that follow.

Like the back-to-back stops of Eagles running back Brian Westbrook to start the second quarter. On the first play, a second down, Westbrook gained 1 yard. On the second play, a third-and-two, Westbrook didn't gain an inch.

Welcome to the warmup.

On the next series, Tatupu stepped in front of a Mike McMahon pass intended for tight end L.J. Smith. He looked like his father, Mosi, a former NFL fullback, returning the pick 38 yards for a touchdown and a 21-0 lead. He honored USC linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. — who was coached in the NFL by Tatupu's current position coach, John Marshall — when he mocked punching the goal post in celebration.

As if that weren't enough, Tatupu tipped a third Seahawks interception to strong safety Michael Boulware later in the second quarter for his encore. It set up the first Shaun Alexander touchdown and cemented both a 28-0 lead and the early beginnings of the Legend of Lofa.

They will remember plays like these, games like this, comments from teammates and front-office types that say everything Lofa Tatupu won't.

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Said fellow rookie linebacker Leroy Hill: "He amazes me every game. I'm lucky he's one of the guys I'm playing with."

Said quarterback Matt Hasselbeck: "His dad should be really proud. He's a really good linebacker."

Said Seahawks president Tim Ruskell: "I can't say that [I'm surprised] because he did these kinds of things at USC. But as quickly as he's made the transition, no one could have expected that."

Tatupu entered and exited this game leading the Seahawks in tackles. He enters the Seahawks' 13th game with 90 and a chance to become the first rookie to lead the Seahawks in tackles since Terry Beeson in 1977.

"It hasn't been an unbelievable season," Tatupu said. "It's been me doing my job. I left school early because I was confident in my ability."

And he's not surprised by his team's play.

"Spotted 28 points?" Tatupu said in response to a question that asked just that. "I thought it was 0-0 when it started. You can analyze it any way you want, we'll take it. It's another 'W.' "

Greg Bishop: 206-464-3191 or gbishop@seattletimes.com

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