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Mark Tuinei Remembered at Funeral

May 14, 1999 GMT

HONOLULU (AP) _ Mark Tuinei was remembered for how he lived, not how he died.

At the funeral service Thursday night for the former Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman, there was no talk about how, on his last night in Dallas before a planned move back to Hawaii, he ingested a fatal combination of the drugs, including heroin.

Instead, the 6-foot-5, 320-pound lineman, who died May 6, was remembered as a big man with an even bigger heart, a guy who would patiently sign autographs until every fan who wanted one had one, a man who downplayed his own achievements to focus on making those around him feel important.

``I am not ashamed of my brother,″ said Tom Tuinei, who then read from Scripture. ``Let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone.″

Tuinei’s casket was draped with a Dallas Cowboys blanket and a Cowboys flag was displayed in the church. Nieces and nephews wore jerseys with Tuinei’s No. 71 and the words ``Uncle Mark″ on the back as they scampered across the grassy grounds of Central Union Church, where he married his wife, Pono, in 1984.

Signed as a free agent in 1983, Dallas intended to try Tuinei as a defensive lineman. Instead, he became an anchor on an offensive line that led the Cowboys to Super Bowl championships in 1993, 1994 and 1996. He retired in 1998 after being felled by a knee injury.

He was laid to rest wearing one of his Super Bowl rings. A football and other personal items also were placed in the casket.

Col. William Olds, a former ROTC instructor at the University of Hawaii who Tuinei credited with helping to set him straight, said it was Tuinei alone who decided to abandon a life of trouble to make something of himself and make his family proud.

``Back then, he felt like the whole world was against him, that trouble followed him all around,″ Olds said of when Tuinei came to him for help in the early 1980s. ``He came to me and said he needed to get his life on track.″

Olds likened Tuinei to the lead character in the television show ``Touched by an Angel.″

``Mark Tuinei was my angel,″ Olds said, choking back tears. ``I sincerely believe he was here to touch the lives of many people. And he did.″

Tuinei’s best friend of nearly 25 years, J.K. Spielman, recalled how his buddy was always thinking about others. He retold a story about Tuinei being given a limousine to attend a taping of a local Dallas television show hosted by Cowboy teammate Deion Sanders.

After taping the show, the limo took Tuinei and his guests to a restaurant, but then Tuinei made the limo driver take him home so he could get his own car so the driver could go home and spend time with his family.

``He was so large in stature, yet so soft in his heart,″ Spielman said. ``He touched the lives of more people in 39 years than most of us will in 80.″

Both Spielman and Olds said Tuinei never expressed any personal troubles in the weeks leading up to his death, and both expressed shock at the fact he died from drugs.

``One bad choice and, unfortunately, that’s how it ended,″ Spielman said. ``I know he did not have a problem that way because I knew him very well.″

No members of the Cowboys attended the memorial service. A service was held last week in Dallas and was attended by many present and former Cowboys.

Among those at the Hawaii service were Arizona coach Dick Tomey, who coached Tuinei at Hawaii; former Hawaii teammate and former San Francisco 49er Jesse Sapolu; former NFL pro and Hawaii teammate Rich Miano; and current Hawaii coach June Jones.