Six-Syllable Samoan Superstar

These are truly the dog days for the non-baseball-loving sports fan. The NBA season is but a gleam in David Stern’s eye at this point, and that leaves us with the NFL preseason, which has to be the single most pointless exercise in all of professional athletics.

Here’s what you get in a typical preseason game: The starters play for a series or two, taking it easy so as not to risk injury. Then the second-stringers play out the half, giving us a chance to see exactly why they’re second-stringers. In the second half we get the third-stringers, followed by some guys picked out of the crowd who have always wanted to play pro football. That’s not my idea of entertainment.

I suppose that the preseason games must be useful for the teams themselves in some way, or they wouldn’t bother to play them, but those few dedicated fans who actually watch are left with a lot of time to twiddle their thumbs and get nervous.

And Raiders fans have been getting very nervous, because their team has been stuggling in the preseason, to put it mildly. The offense has been inconsistent, the defense has been porous, and kicker Sebastian Janikowski has looked like the jumpy Janikowski of old, missing field goals left and right, literally.

But your thinking fan reminds him or herself that preseason is meaningless and concentrates on the positive. The biggest bright spot for the Raiders this preseason has been my new favorite football player: second-year quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo. Why am I so high on this kid?

• I was a big fan of his dad, Manu Tuiasosopo, who played tackle for the Seahawks and 49ers. He was a big man with a big name, which I taught myself to pronounce over the course of several NFL seasons (for those of you keeping score at home, that’s six syllables: Too-ee-ah-soh-soh-poh).

• The Tuiasosopos are of Samoan extraction, and Samoans in the NFL have typically played on the line because they are, generally speaking, quite large people. It’s cool to see Manu’s son come up playing not just a skill position, but the #1 skill position, quarterback.

• In high school, Marques not only played offense and defense (playing at safety, he once returned a fumble recovery 95 yards for a touchdown), but was a standout on the basketball and baseball teams as well. He was even drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1997, but chose instead to play football at Washington, where he was the first quarterback to pass for more than 300 yards and run for more than 200 yards in the same game.

• Marques is mobile, durable, has a strong arm. So far, he has completed 75% of his NFL passes. (OK, so he’s 3 for 4. It still augurs good things for the future.) He plays the game with an enthusiasm that puts me in mind of Brett Favre — the kind of guy who gets pounded into the turf, then jumps up and congratulates the defender on a nice hit.

Marques probably won’t see much playing time this year unless the current starter — dependable, 98-year-old Rich Gannon — gets hurt. And I’m not saying I’m rooting for that to happen, because Marques could use another year of seasoning, but it would be interesting to see him get a chance to play before Jerry Rice and Tim Brown hang it up.

Also, I’m eager to see what sportscasters are going to do when they have to say “Tuiasosopo” in every other sentence. Raiders’ play-by-play man Greg Papa is a consummate pro and will be able to handle it; but the league’s lesser lights are going to tie themselves in knots. And before you ask — yes, that is my idea of entertainment.

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