Things have come together rather quickly for the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame, which announced its inaugural class of inductees earlier this week.
On Wednesday, seven men were selected to be the first representatives in recognition of their essential contributions to the game. Kurt Keola Gouveia, Olin George Kreutz, Kevin James Mawae, Tiaina Baul “Junior” Seau, Jr., Jack Thompson, Herman John Wedemeyer and Ken Niumatalolo are the first ever Polynesian Hall of Fame honorees after previously reaching a list of 25 finalists.
Back in August, the establishment of the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame was announced by a group of board members that included Jesse Sapolu, Ma’a Tanuvasa, Vai Sikahema, Troy Polamalu, Reno Mahe and June Jones. They stated that the organization would “serve as a resource for Polynesian Football history, provide college scholarships designated for student-athletes of Polynesian ancestry, educational programs focusing on character and teamwork for Polynesian youth and support other initiatives positively impacting Polynesian culture and heritage.”
In September, a list of 25 finalists was announced with a Selection Committee voting on which of those candidates would receive the distinction of inaugural class inductees. Former coaches Dick Tomey, LaVell Edwards and Ron McBride, current ESPN sportscaster Neil Everett, NFL personnel legend Gil Brandt and Honolulu sportscaster Robert Kekaula made up the Selection Committee and arrived at the seven men to be enshrined on January 23, 2014.
The most famous name on the list belongs to Junior Seau, who receives the posthumous honor after a 20-year NFL career that included 12 Pro Bowls, following an All-American career at Southern California. Seau was the most recognizable linebacker in the league and had 1,288 tackles and 47 sacks in his 13 years with the San Diego Chargers.
Gouveia is one of the most accomplished players to ever come out of the state of Hawaii. The Honolulu native led Waianae High School to three straight state championships before moving on to play linebacker at Brigham Young University as a key member of the 1984 national championship team. Gouveia played 13 seasons in the NFL and won Super Bowl rings with the Washington Redskins in 1987 and 1991.
Kreutz was one of the dominant centers of his era, appearing in six consecutive Pro Bowls from 2001 to 2006. He played 14 NFL seasons, 13 of them with the Chicago Bears after an All-American career at the University of Washington.
Mawae was also one of the NFL’s best centers, playing 16 seasons and appearing in six Pro Bowls. Not only was Mawae a catalyst and leader for the Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets and Tennessee Titans, he was respected by his peers around the league, as evidenced by his two terms as President of the NFL Players Association – the first Polynesian to ever serve that role.
Nicknamed “The Throwin’ Samoan,” Thompson graduated from Washington State University as the NCAA all-time passing leader with 7,818 yards. He was a three-time All Pac-10 selection and finished ninth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1978. When the Cincinnati Bengals made Thompson the third pick in the 1979 NFL Draft, he became the highest selected Polynesian in league history. He played six seasons with the Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Wedemeyer (1924-99) was an All-American running back at Saint Mary’s College and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1945. He played a pair of professional seasons in the All-America Football Conference with the Los Angeles Dons and Baltimore Colts. Though an inductee into the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame, Wedemeyer is likely best known for his portrayal as Sergeant/Detective “Duke” Lakela on the original “Hawaii Five-O” TV series.
Niumatalolo is now in his seventh season as the head coach for the United States Naval Academy, where he has become the winningest Polynesian head coach in FBS history. The University of Hawaii graduate hails from Laie and has led Navy to five bowl games in six completed seasons. He is also the first person of Samoan ancestry to be named a collegiate head coach.
Everett and Sikahema will be hosting the enshrinement ceremony on January 23, 2014 at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu.
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