KIRKLAND, Wash. (AP) -If you were to judge Lofa Tatupu by what you see or hear, you'd be doing what 31 NFL teams did with him.
Misjudge.
Seattle's rugged team leader and ball-hawking catalyst is a two-time Pro Bowler - and is barely 6 feet tall and might weigh 240 pounds. The rest of the league saw him as too slow and too small coming out of Southern California two years ago.
He may have earned his third consecutive invitation last weekend. He intercepted three passes from A.J. Feeley in Philadelphia, following a painkilling injection into his side, to save a win for the Seahawks (8-4).
But Tatupu said his perfect reads on those passes were not because he was supremely prepared through hours of fiendish film study, for which he is renowned among coaches, teammates and fans in Seattle.
``We get a DVD (on opponents) from coaches and I watch the DVD, but everyone makes so much out of that (reputation),'' Tatupu said Thursday.
``I know what I am supposed to do. I just take good notes and, really, just listen to the coaches and what they want. And translate that to the field. You don't have to do all that studying at home.
``We're hear from 7 until about 4:30 or 5. That's a long day. We have lives outside. It's not like everyone makes it out to be.''
Then the man who told his mother, Linnea, at age 6 that he was going to be an NFL player - she took him to boxing gyms on her jobs as a personal trainer - added with a wry smile, ``But I do love it.''
The 25-year old also loves video games. An alien game called ``Halo'' is his favorite home pastime. Oh, and putting together 1,000-word jigsaw puzzles. He finished his most recent one in training camp.
``Usually when I start something, I like to finish it,'' he said.
The Seahawks love Tatupu. Teammates love his boyish pranks, like taping goofy pictures onto their locker stalls. Coach Mike Holmgren routinely gushes about how tough his captain is. How selfless he is. How natural a leader he is.
``He's just a coach's dream,'' Holmgren said this week as his team prepared for Sunday's game against Arizona (6-6), which could clinch Seattle's fourth consecutive NFC West title.
``He's not your atypical middle linebacker. I don't know exactly how tall he is or how much he weighs. He's not a big, hulking guy. But, boy, is he a good player and a good guy.''
During his rookie season, Tatupu was credited for a sack against San Francisco but was dogged by thoughts of how he essentially just ran in while fellow linebacker Leroy Hill manhandled two blockers and then joined him to tackle the quarterback. So Tatupu asked the Seahawks' public relations staff to contact the NFL statistical department and request a change.
He wanted Hill to get full credit for the sack.
Holmgren still loves to tell the one about Tatupu coming up to him that season and asking to have the entire special teams units - all four groups - introduced to the home crowd instead of the defensive starters. Tatupu told Holmgren, ``They are working hard. They deserve it.''
Holmgren's response: ``I appreciate the thought. But I'm not introducing the special teams.''
``Like I am going to introduce the right wing on our punt-coverage team,'' Holmgren said later.
``But the sentiment was important,'' Holmgren said. ``He's a unique guy, he really is. Lofa is a special young man.''
This middle linebacker is also a former quarterback at small King Philip Regional High in Wrentham, Mass. He threw 10 touchdowns and ran for five more as a senior in 2000, after getting the job because his best friend, scheduled to be the starter, quit to play basketball.
Rutgers wanted Tatupu to play the position there, but ``I didn't have the grades to get into Rutgers,'' Tatupu said.
Connecticut did, too. But he told the Huskies he'd rather be a linebacker.
So he went to Maine, in the Football Championship Subdivision. But after one season in what Tatupu viewed as small-time football, he sought to transfer. Oregon was interested. Then his father, former NFL fullback Mosi Tatupu, put a word and a tape in at USC, his alma mater.
Coach Pete Carroll had the entire coaching staff greeting the Tatupus on their visit. Less than two years later, he was USC's leading tackler. Two years after that, he seized the next challenge - he left the Trojans with a year of eligibility remaining to enter the NFL draft.
The Seahawks ignored doubters and selected Tatupu in the second round, even traded up to get him. The pick was a steal.
``If you ask me what his biggest trait is,'' said Seahawks defensive coordinator John Marshall, ``I'd say it's his passion. Passion to be the best at what he's asked to do.''

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