Tagovailoa brings Samoan culture to NFL

  • Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press file

    Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa watches a drill at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis in February.

Miami Dolphins’ quarterback Tua Tagovailoa made quite a declarative, non-verbal statement when he came to Friday’s Zoom press conference sporting a Ryan Fitzpatrick jersey.

The gesture by some would be interpreted as deliberate and blatant disrespect by the rookie to the veteran about to enter his 15th NFL season.

Not so fast.

In the conference, Tagovailoa, the St. Louis School product from Honolulu, pointed out some fundamental principles from his Samoan culture.

“Football is intertwined with the Samoan culture, and in our culture, respect is the biggest thing,” Tagovailoa said in the Zoom press conference. “In football, respect is demanded for your head coach and your OC (offensive coordinator), so you grow up knowing not to talk back to an elder who talks to you, but just take their advice.”

Tagovailoa is not in the most comfortable situation. Essentially, Fitzpatrick, the 37-year-old gunslinger, is in a situation where he is knowingly training his replacement, and backup QB Josh Rosen is two years removed from being the No. 10 overall NFL draft pick by the Arizona Cardinals.

Yet make no mistake, Fitzpatrick is an assistant coach in pads, Rosen is trade bait, and Tagovailoa, at the present moment, is the franchise’s future.

Still, some of his fundamental cultural principles allow him to adapt to the cutthroat NFL culture with ease.

“When you get chewed out, you learn how to eat it,” Tagovailoa said. “My culture has shaped me into the person I am, and it has taught me to be respectful and whatnot.”

Eighteen years ago was the Dolphins’ last playoffs win, when they beat a Peyton Manning-led Colts team in a thrilling 23-17 overtime decision.

The expectations for Hawai‘i’s most celebrated athlete of the modern era couldn’t be higher.

The last time the Dolphins has a bonafide franchise quarterback was when they drafted Dan Marino from the University of Pittsburgh in the famous 1983 NFL draft.

Tagovailoa is expected to fill those big shoes, and he has gotten some advice from “Dan The Man,” right after he was taken fifth in this year’s draft.

“When Dan reached out to me after the draft, that was super awesome and cool,” Tagovailoa said in the Zoom conference. “The first day I got into the meeting, I got to talk with Dan. He’s a down-to-earth guy and someone you could chat with. He doesn’t hold his head up high and walk around like he is the man, which he is. He’s super humble.”

Chan Gailey has over 40 years of experience in coaching in the NFL and was hired as the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator.

Gailey has the unenviable task of presiding over what could end up being a quarterback carousel.

When does the coach bench Fitzpatrick and play Rosen or Tagovailoa? Who will have the better upside between Tagovailoa and Rosen? Are Rosen’s bad quarterback metrics the result of being on two awful teams, and has Tagovailoa recovered from his hip injuries?

So many questions at this juncture, with so few answers.

“To answer that question, I honestly just won’t know how I will feel until it happens,” Tagovailoa said. “I won’t know the feeling until I go out there and get tackled. It is almost like a trial-and-error thing. You have to go out there and do it to know if it does or doesn’t hurt. As of right now, I feel like everything is going well.”

For sure, as long as Tagovailoa sticks to the Hawaiian and Samoan principles, it’ll put him in an excellent position to win the 2020 Fins’ inevitable quarterback shuffle.

Much more buzzworthy to Dolphins’ faithful than Tagovailoa’s recent Twitter interaction with pop-country star Shania Twain is that the former standout from Alabama is the franchise’s prize, and future.

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Jason Blasco, sports reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or jblasco@thegardenisland.com.

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