Originally created 05/07/99

Former Dallas Cowboy Mark Tuinei dead at 39

PLANO, Texas -- Mark Tuinei, a former Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman who helped them win three Super Bowl titles and was considered the team's toughest player during his 15 seasons, was found dead in his car Thursday morning. He was 39.

Plano police chief Bruce Glasscock said an unidentified friend who had been told to go to Tuinei's house to check on him found Tuinei unconscious in a vehicle. Efforts to revive him failed, and he was pronounced dead upon arriving at Medical Center of Plano, a north Dallas suburb.

The cause of death was not immediately known. Glasscock said foul play, alcohol or drugs were not believed to be involved.

"There is nothing in the investigation at this time that would indicate that," Glasscock said.

A preliminary report from medical examiners was expected by midafternoon Thursday. However, Glasscock said it could take several days for any definitive information from an autopsy or toxicology reports.

The chief said he wasn't sure how long Tuinei had been passed out.

"The only information we have at this point is that it was a good portion of the morning," he said.

Although Tuinei didn't have as high a profile as teammates such as Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith or even fellow offensive lineman Nate Newton, "Tui" (TWO-ey) was extremely popular in the locker room and the community.

"He was just a good person, always had a smile on his face and always would take time to talk to any individual," Cowboys defensive line coach Jim Bates said. "He was just a good team guy."

The team canceled a voluntary workout scheduled for Thursday. Several players and coaches who had arrived for the practice left in a solemn mood. Many said they were too shook up to talk to reporters.

"It's a sad moment, not just for players but for the whole organization," said linebacker Randall Godfrey, a teammate for one season. "It's sad for his family, but you also hurt for guys like Troy Aikman, Moose (Daryl) Johnston, Charles Haley -- those guys who had memories with him. That's who really feels it."

Glasscock said he didn't know whether the unidentified friend was a member of the Cowboys.

Tuinei's wife, Pono, was in their home state of Hawaii, where she was notified by family members, police said. The couple did not have children.

Tuinei's career ended following the 1997 season because of lingering problems in both knees. The two-time Pro Bowler was released in April 1998 with hopes that he'd return in the fall, but he couldn't make it back.

All the years of taking on 300-pound defenders had finally caught up to the 6-foot-5, 320-pound Tuinei, leaving him tied for the club record for longevity.

Such a record was an unlikely achievement for a player who came to the Cowboys in 1983 as an undrafted defensive lineman after playing just seven games his senior year at Hawaii.

But Tuinei caught the attention of then-coach Tom Landry and played 10 games that season. In 1985, Tuinei was moved to offense and he became a full-time starter in 1987. He saw action at several spots on the line before settling in at left tackle, where he was responsible for blocking the quarterback's back.

Despite various injuries, tough-guy Tuinei played all but nine games from 1989 to 1996. Over that span, the Cowboys went from 1-15 in Aikman's rookie year to three-time Super Bowl champs (1993, '94, '96).

One of the highlights of Tuinei's career was playing in the Pro Bowl after the 1994 and 1995 seasons. He savored the appreciation of his peers, but he especially enjoyed getting to play in front of friends and family in his native Hawaii.

Tuinei's tough side came from being raised in Nanakuli, a town of about 10,000 on the coast of Oahu. Fighting was part of growing up and Tuinei excelled at it, even though it often got him in trouble.

Friends said Tuinei planned to move back to Hawaii next week to become the offensive line coach at Punahou High School, which he attended.

"He never seemed healthier or happier about going home," said friend Will Morris, who also attended the private school and met Tuinei at a Texas reunion of Punahou alumni about five years ago. "He was happy as can be."

Bates said Tuinei worked out in the team's weight room last week.

"He looked in great shape," Bates said. "He was jovial."

There was no immediate word on memorial or funeral services.


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