August 16, 1976
Shake 'em Out Of The Coconut Trees
College coaches say that is the smart move in Samoa, where palm groves are full of young monsters with tongue-twisting names and unquenchable pride
In the '20s and '30s, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant football fans were stunned by the emergence of a generation of players whose antecedents were mysterious and whose names—Nagurski, Wojcie-chowicz, Oosterbaan, Skladany—when they first appeared in newspaper headlines, seemed to be the products of a berserk compositor. Nothing quite like it has happened since (the black boom in the college game was cushioned by familiar names—Buddy Young,Jim Brown,Lenny Moore). But this fall a comparable cultural shock could be in the making.
What is coming on is a swarm of Polynesian warriors—not your run-of-the-reef, gin mill flamethrowers, but strong, fierce men, six to seven feet tall, who seem to have stepped into the 20th century from some secret museum of oceanic antiquities. As, in fact, they have. The museum is a tiny (76 square miles) island cluster in the deep South Seas calledAmerican Samoa. Not only is it the least known and most remote ofU.S.territories, but, together withWestern Samoa, it also is the only island group where the Polynesian culture—and the Polynesian race—has survived virtually intact.
Until the 1950s, few Samoans ever left home, but among those who did a good many made their mark—some in football. Packard Harrington, for example, starred for St. Mary's of Moraga (Calif.) in the late '30s andAl Harrington(no kin) made a name for himself atStanfordtwo decades later. They both said they were Samoans, but what was that? Even if Al had abided by Samoan custom and gone by his matriarchal name—which is Taa—he would have been lumped with Charley Ane, an All-Pro center for theDetroit Lions, Famika Anae, a varsity center forBrigham Young, and Al Lolotai, aWashington Redskinguard in theSammy Baughera, as just another "Hawaiian." Lolotai reluctantly surrendered to this cultural disfranchisement by wrestling professionally under the name of "Sweet Leilani."