Samoan in the Super Bowl: Levine Toilolo looking to redeem 2017 loss
San Francisco 49ers tight end, Levine Toilolo, is drawing on past experience to help get his team ready for the National Football League’s (N.F.L.) Super Bowl LIV next week.
The 28-year-old, who draws his Samoan roots from Leone, American Samoa, and his fellow teammates will take on the Kansas City Chiefs in Miami, Florida, in front of an expected TV audience of 150 million.
“It’s amazing, it’s the ultimate goal,” Toilolo said.
“We have a chance to be the last team standing out of all 32 teams, that’s what you work all year for.”
Toilolo previously made it to gridiron’s showpiece event in 2017 with his original club the Atlanta Falcons.
Atlanta led by 25 points at one stage before the New England Patriots made the largest comeback in Super Bowl history to win 34-28 in overtime.
Toilolo said it was a tough way to lose.
“Just to be that close to your goal and to let it slip away, regardless of how it happened, even if it was a blowout or whatever, just to be that close and come away with the loss is definitely something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” he said.
“To have this opportunity again, and to be able to share that experience with some of the other guys is important.”
The 2.03 metres tall, 122 kilogram tight end said being in the game for the second time means he knows what to expect:
“Just having that experience the first time round, everything won’t be so shocking and so new to me.”
Toilolo has been able to pass on some of those lessons as well.
“Being able to talk to some of the tight ends, just about the week leading up to it and some of the events, and also the mindset to have,” he said.
“All this is nice to be able to be here, but it’s more than that.
“If you don’t come away with that win and that ring at the end, it’s not as great of a memory as you’d like it to be.”
The 49ers have been training as normal in San Francisco before they fly out on Monday ahead of the following Monday’s game.
“We’ll be in Miami all week, getting ready for the game, practicing, and trying to keep it as normal a week as we can, just try to stick to our routine,” Toilolo said.
“At the end of the day it’s another football game that we’re trying to prepare for and we’re trying to win.”
The seven-season veteran didn’t get much game time over the regular season, but has found himself in a more expanded role during the playoffs.
“We have a good rotation, so [how much you play] just depends on the gameplan that week and what plays are up,” Toilolo said.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re at on the depth chart, because at the end of the day everybody’s one play away from being the main guy.
“Everybody on this team, they prepare to be ready to go make a play if their number is called.”
And that mentality is what Toilolo said makes his 49ers team so special.
This was his first year in San Francisco, marking a return to California for the San Diego native.
“My family’s closer, I’m familiar with this area having gone to school out here,” said Toilolo, who played college football at nearby Stanford University.
California is also home to more Samoans than any other American mainland state.
Toilolo has three uncles who played in the N.F.L. before him; Dan Saleaumua, Edwin Mulitalo and Joe Salave’a.
“I had a lot of family growing up who played the sport, it’s definitely something that’s big in our culture, just with the natural size and ability,” he said.
“For me it was always something I enjoyed…, and I’ve been blessed to play it for this long and get to this level.”
And Toilolo will forever keep his ancestral home in his heart:
“I’m always thankful for the support all the way from the island out there, and just proud to represent the people out there.”
Toilolo and the San Francisco 49ers play the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV at 1:30 pm Samoan time next Monday.