by Mike Moropoulos
As I stood in front of the crowd last Thursday at Sut Puailoa Field, listening to a Samoan group singing and watching Sut’s family dance, I thought: What an appropriate ending to a memorial service for our friend Satini Puailoa II. We were at San Marcos High School, among family and good friends, celebrating the life of a great human being with a highly inspirational Samoan ceremony. Those attending represented an incredible range of the lives he touched. There were colleagues from his many years of service to the students at San Marcos High School, where he coached football and golf; he brought many championships to the Royals’ campus in his years of dominating the Channel League, and later became athletic director. There were students who benefited from his teachings. Often forgotten amongst his illustrious accomplishments was the fact that Sut — an artist and perfectionist — was an outstanding drafting teacher. There were those chosen few so fortunate to have coached with — not for — him. His gift for delegating full responsibility created a tremendous sense of loyalty and excellence that prevails to this day.
Of course there were many former players offering their thanks, including three kids named Puailoa. And many in attendance had played golf with him. For Sut, it made no difference if he was playing to a scratch and you to a 21 — your 93rd stroke was just as important as his 72nd. A bit of irony touched the services in that they were held on the first day of the Master’s; one of the highlights of Sut’s life was a trip to the Master’s at Augusta National. And many at the service were personal friends, supporters, fans, and relatives.
Being asked to speak at Sut’s memorial service on Thursday, April 6 was the greatest personal honor I have ever experienced. For that, I thank Sut’s wife Patty; their sons Scott, Satini, and Steven; and their daughter Sina. Friends gathered to salute a great friend, as well as to extend to Patty and the Puailoa family their love and support in a time of grief. This community has suffered a tremendous loss. When I think of Sut these days, I either laugh or cry, and since I’ve cried enough, I would rather laugh. I would prefer to celebrate his life than mourn his death.
In 1954, I met a young, handsome Samoan guy named Sut Puailoa, and it was friendship at first sight. We were both returning from the service to be football players on the first team to compete from the new Goleta campus of UCSB. That friendship endured and strengthened for 52 years, and will continue now in spirit.
What many people in this community don’t know about Sut is that this kid from Montebello High School and Pasadena City College was a UCSB Hall of Fame runner with incredible balance, and modesty to match. Because of his easy smile and affable nature, few realized that Sut was linebacker-tough. That toughness manifested itself during his multiple infirmities. He was never once heard to complain about giving up a game he loved because of being confined to a hospital bed.
I vividly recall one particular big game: Santa Barbara versus San Marcos with 17,000 spectators in Harder Stadium. It’s a crucial play and, as the coach for S.B., I’m signaling, shouting at coaches, substituting, and strategizing. I look across the field for perhaps a hidden clue, and see Sut Puailoa leisurely walking the sidelines drinking a cup of coffee.
Many wonder how our friendship survived that great rivalry. It was easy, since we prepared harder as friends than we ever would have as enemies. Later, we coached together in an effort to help the students revive football at UCSB. How would we get along? Remember that Satini Puailoa II was born of Samoan royalty, and before the end of the season “the Chief” had me wearing royal blue coaching pants. Sut and I competed in football, golf, and even as athletic directors. Our record? I have no idea, but in terms of fishing and playing golf, we broke even. He was about a triple bogey as a fisherman. I said we broke even — does that tell you about my golf?
Sut was one of my idols, someone who exhibited character traits I wish I had. Fortunately, I realized early on that no one could be like Sut — he was an original — so I settled for the honor of being his friend. One of the character traits I envied was that he never spoke disparagingly of others, with only one exception — Al Davis, owner of the Raiders. Sut never forgave Davis for what he did to Marcus Allen. Sut was also easily the most honest person I’ve ever known. No pretentiousness, no airs, just straight Satini. Every year on game week Tuesday nights, we met to exchange films at what is now the Spearmint Rhino (hey, it was Baker’s Square then). Sut would tell me his QB might be concussed and his left tackle had sprained his ankle. Me? I’m noting, “QB might be dingy and the LT will be gimpy.”
Sut was an extremely proud man — not of his exploits, successes, or honors, but of his family and his Samoan heritage. That pride has largely driven his family. Sut knew of my admiration for his culture, and one of my regrets is that I was never able to visit Samoa with him. The closest I ever came was during celebrations at their home — pure Samoan merriment, as the Puailoa family sang and danced.
Sut passed away at home, surrounded by family and friends, on March 31. Before his memorial service, I tried to compile a list of traits and characteristics that might best describe his persona, but I abandoned that effort for there are no words that capture the full essence of his life. The future without Sut will hold some long and lonely periods. But Sut’s family, confident that he might be the finest person any have had the pleasure of knowing, will be supported by many friends in celebrating his remarkable life.
We thank Patty Puailoa for sharing Sut, whom we feel is the most remarkable and unforgettable character of our time. She enters this period of time in the knowledge that together they created a great family. She is an especially dedicated, strong, and caring mother and wife. Her influence is evident in a family that demonstrates those same principles; there is no mistaking Sut and Patty’s influence in the quality of their children’s families.
Satini Puailoa II is leaving us for what we know to be a better place — where he can play golf, eat sushi for lunch, listen to Samoan music, watch USC football, have ribs for dinner, play bingo at night, and spend Friday nights with his Royals at Sut Puailoa Field. Yes, it appears that Satini is leaving us, but we know in our hearts that Sut Puailoa will be with us forever. May God bless the Puailoa family.