CANTON, Ohio — Kevin Mawae can look right through a questioning reporter like a tough Polynesian warrior.
But to one of those reporters Friday, he admitted his induction this weekend into the Pro Football Hall of Fame was certain to leave him an emotional mess.
“I’ll cry tonight,” Mawae said, referring to Friday night’s gold jacket ceremony. “I’ll cry tomorrow. I’ll cry again on the stage, I’ll cry during the speech, I’ll cry after the speech. That’s just who I am. I’m an emotional guy, and I wear my emotions on my sleeve.
“When you talk about family, teammates, football, faith, the things that make me who I am, it’s hard not to get emotional about it.”
Mawae’s emotions welled up during Friday’s media session as he spoke of how he wanted to be remembered. Not really as a Hall of Famer, but as a dependable and principled teammate for all of the 16 NFL seasons and 241 games in which he played.
“All that other stuff doesn’t matter,” Mawae said, pausing a long moment to compose himself. “The numbers don’t matter. The longevity doesn’t matter. What matters is how other people think about you and how you treated them.
“I wanted my teammates to trust me and know that I was a good teammate. That I was a leader in the locker room.”
Of that, there can be no doubt.
Mawae rose through the ranks of the player’s union as a team representative to become president of the NFL Players Association in the final two years of his career with the Tennessee Titans (he played four years there after four seasons in Seattle and eight in the core of his career with the New York Jets).
Now he finds himself in the ultimate leadership role in the ultimate place of respect the game can provide: one of 326 players, coaches and contributors from the NFL’s first century to be enshrined here.
For Mawae, it is a thrill practically beyond measure. But it isn’t one that ever played a factor or served as a goal in the former LSU All-American’s long and distinguished career.
“This was never the goal,” Mawae said. “The dream was just to be a football player and ride that wave. I rode it for 16 years.
“This is a culmination of all it combined. (Fellow Class of 2019 member) Ty Law’s dream as a child was to be a Hall of Famer and he did it. My dream was to be an NFL player and I did it. We are walking embodiments of dreams come true.”
Mawae’s dream started playing youth football on the U.S. military base in Hanau, Germany, where his father David was stationed. When he was transferred to Fort Polk, Mawae grew up in Leesville and starred for the Wampus Cats before going on to LSU in 1990.
Football was always a constant companion.
“Kids wake up on Saturday morning to watch cartoons,” Mawae said. “I woke up on Sunday mornings so I could watch two hours of NFL highlights.”
The kid in him is still finding all this Hall of Fame stuff hard to believe, seeing fellow enshrinees here like Mel Blount of Southern and the Pittsburgh Steelers or Los Angeles Rams linebacker Jack Youngblood, and being one of them.
“I took a picture with Don Maynard and Joe Namath,” Mawae said. “For those who love football, it’s crazy.
“I was a Dallas Cowboys fan growing up. Roger Staubach and Danny White were two of my favorite players. I played quarterback at the time. It’s pretty neat now as a Hall of Famer to be sitting in the hotel and Roger Staubach walks by. Danny White is on our staff at Arizona State (where Mawae is an offensive analyst) because that’s where he played.
“As an offensive lineman, I studied Anthony Munoz and Mike Webster. Anthony was my offensive line hero. Now I get to be his teammate for life (in Canton).”
As he predicted, Mawae choked up at times in an emotion-packed speech. He thanked his wife Tracy who presented him Saturday, their kids, his parents and brothers, his coaches. He also remembered his brother John, also an LSU player, who died in a car crash in May 1996.
He even praised Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, and remembered all the losses to them.
“That sucked,” Mawae admitted.
It was John’s death, and the birth soon after of his son Kirkland, that changed Mawae’s life and sent him on a journey into his born-again Christian faith, of which Mawae speaks freely.
Mawae also spoke of his years at LSU from 1989-93, five of the six straight losing seasons the Tigers suffered through under Mike Archer and Curley Hallman. Mawae never won a state title at Leesville High School, played in a bowl game at LSU, or a Super Bowl.
But he found much in which to take pride, calling out the 1,000-plus teammates he had over the years.
“We did this,” Mawae said. “Kevin didn’t do this. We all did this.”
This, as he put it, was joining fellow 2019 Hall of Famer Johnny Robinson as the fourth and fifth LSU players ever enshrined in Canton, and the first player of Hawaiian descent to make it here.
“I … am … home,” Mawae said.