Compared to the other major sports, the NFL lags well behind when it comes to international flavor. One of the few exceptions to that has been players coming from the islands of Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean. For whatever reason, those of Polynesian descent are fit to play in the NFL. It’s gotten to the point where it’s no longer surprising to see Polynesian players make it to the NFL. Naturally, that makes it the ideal time to look back on the best players of Polynesian descent to ever play in the NFL.
Born in Samoa, Sapolu was one of the first NFL players from the Pacific Islands. After being an 11th-round pick, going 289th overall in the 1983 NFL Draft, Sapolu went on to have a 15-year career, all of which was spent with the San Francisco 49ers.
He went to the Pro Bowl twice and was a part of four teams that won the Super Bowl. Perhaps more importantly, Sapolu was a co-founder of the Polynesian Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Iupati followed in Sapolu’s footprints as an offensive lineman who was also born in the Pacific Islands. Fittingly, he also began his career with the 49ers, although he was a first-round pick, getting selected 17th overall in 2010.
Iupati ended up retiring after 11 seasons in the NFL, but not before he went to four straight Pro Bowls from 2012 to 2015 and was a First-Team All-Pro selection in 2012.
While Ngata was born in California, his parents emigrated to the United States from the island nation of Tonga. He hails from an athletic family, which showed with Ngata being an All-American in both high school and in college. For nearly a decade, he was a huge part of the Baltimore defense, at one point going to five consecutive Pro Bowls.
Naturally, Ngata was a part of Baltimore’s championship team when they won Super Bowl XLVII. When all was said and done, he played 13 NFL seasons and has since been honored in the Baltimore Ravens Ring of Honor.
Born in California and raised in Oregon, Polamalu is of Samoan descent. He was actually born Troy Aumua but went by his mother’s maiden name his whole life and had it officially changed in 2007. On the field, it’s hard to find a better player of Polynesian descent or a better safety.
Polamalu spent his entire career with the Steelers, helping Pittsburgh to two Super Bowl wins and going to the Pro Bowl eight times. He won Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2010 and also made the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2000s. Naturally, Polamalu was a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection.
During his career, nobody was better than the late, great Junior Seau. His parents are from American Samoa and his paternal great-grandfather was a village chief in American Samoa’s territorial capital of Pago Pago. After Seau was born in California, his family actually moved back to Samoa for a few years before returning to the U.S.
Ultimately, Seau became one of the best linebackers in NFL history. He was Defensive Player of the Year in just his third season and went to 12 straight Pro Bowls. Unfortunately, his story has a tragic ending, as his 20-year, Hall of Fame career left him with a severe case of CTE that ultimately led him to take his own life in 2012.