American Samoa: Football Island

Scott Pelley Reports on Why More NFL Players Come from This Tiny Group of Islands Than from Any Other Place in America

This story was originally published on Jan. 17, 2010. It was updated on Sept. 17, 2010.

There's a small community that produces more players for the NFL than anyplace else in America. It isn't in Texas, or Florida or Oklahoma. In fact, it's as far from the foundations of football as you can get.

Call it "Football Island" - American Samoa, a rock in the distant South Pacific.

How's this for a football stat? From an island of just 65,000 people, there are more than 30 players of Samoan descent in the NFL and over 200 playing Division I college ball. That's like 30 current NFL players coming out of Sparks, Nev., or Gastonia, N.C.

As we first told you last winter, "60 Minutes" correspondent Scott Pelley traveled 8,000 miles to American Samoa and found a people and traditions so perfectly suited to America's game - it's as if they'd been waiting centuries for football to come ashore.

Web Extra: Troy Polamalu
Web Extra: The Governor's Office
Web Extra: The Haka War Dance

In American Samoa, a football team warms up with the Haka War Dance - something that's been passed down for ages to teach agility to warriors of size and strength.

What coach doesn't wish he'd thought of that first? It turns out the South Pacific was raising football talent before there was football.

While Pelley was there, the island was getting set for its version of the Super Bowl - the High School Championship.

After a winning season, 16-year-old quarterback Tavita Neemia would lead the Samoana High School Sharks. His coach, Pepine Lauvoa, has a roster that mainland schools dream about.

"They're soft spoken, they're gentle," he told Pelley of his players. "But when they put on their equipment, they just become monsters. And they just want to go out and hit and hit and hit."

Web Extra: Scott Pelley Notebook

One 16-year-old player told Pelley he's 6 feet 5 inches tall. Another, 17 years old, said he's 6 foot 4 and a half.

"It looks like you've been hitting cars with this thing," Pelley said, holding a beaten-up football helmet, eliciting laughter from the players.

In the last five years alone, the island's six high schools have produced 10 NFL linemen. It's estimated that a boy born to Samoan parents is 56 times more likely to get into the NFL than any other kid in America.

The Samoan people are big. And big is beautiful, according to Togiola Tulafono, the governor of American Samoa.

Tulafono said it's not just size that makes the Samoans such great football players. His people come from a farming culture that prizes hard work, reverence and discipline. And he thinks that's why scouts and coaches are pulling out their atlases.

"I'm afraid most Americans back on the mainland would be hard pressed to pick this place out on a map," Pelley said.

"Yeah, it's not very visible," Tulafono agreed.

"It is a small dot on a big ocean."

"It is, it is," he responded. But nowadays Google helps a lot."

  • Scott Pelley

    Anchor and Managing Editor, "CBS Evening News;" Correspondent, "60 Minutes"

60 Minutes App

New Look. New Season. The 60 Minutes app for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch!

More from 60 Minutes

Comments