ATTLEBORO, Mass. -- Mosi Tatupu, a fan favorite who played 13 seasons for the New England Patriots, died Tuesday at age 54.
Ashley O'Brien, a spokeswoman for Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro, Mass., said Tatupu was pronounced dead at the hospital. She did not give a cause. The Plainville Fire Department responded to Tatupu's home on Tuesday and took him to the hospital, Lt. Richard Ball said.
"He was one of those fun guys in the locker room who also had fun on the field," said former Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan, who was one of Tatupu's teammates in New England. "When he went to practice, he had a smile on his face all the time because he was having fun. He enjoyed playing football. He could have played in any era, for anybody at any time. It's a shame that he's gone at such an early age."
Tatupu played with the Patriots from 1978 to 1990, starring as a special-teams player (making the Pro Bowl in 1986) and as a jack-of-all-trades running back. He was one of the most popular players of his era and even had his own cheering section at Schaefer/Sullivan Stadium called "Mosi's Mooses."
"I think football fans in this area appreciate a lunch pail attitude, someone who shows up for work every day and that's what Mosi did," Grogan said. "I think his personality, the spirit and fun he showed on the field, transferred to fans. That's why they loved him so much."
Patriots owner Robert Kraft echoed those sentiments.
"I was shocked by the news this morning. My sons and I loved to watch Mosi," Kraft said through a press release issued by the team. "He was one of our favorite players for more than a decade. I don't think you could watch a Patriots game in the '80s without becoming a fan of his. He was a dominant special teams player and a punishing rusher who loved the Patriots as much as the fans did. He gave everything that he had on every play and immediately became a fan favorite. ...
"He was an iconic player and will be remembered for all of his contributions as a Patriot, both on and off the field. Our sincere condolences go out to all of Mosi's family, former teammates and many friends who are mourning his loss today."
Tatupu rushed for 2,415 yards over his career with the Patriots, scoring 18 touchdowns and averaging 3.9 yards per carry.
"The thing about Mosi was that he did everything," former Patriots center Peter Brock said. "He wasn't the glamour guy out in front, getting all the carries, he just played football and he played hard.
"A lot of people remember the 'Snow Plow Game' and, of course, John Smith's kick won it, but it was Mosi, who ran for more than 100 yards that day, that really won that game.
"It's really a shock and it's so much tougher because we played before the era of free agency, so you really got to know everybody. We were a community. We raised our children together. Because of that it's just like losing a family member."
Patriots receiver Wes Welker, recipient of the 2003 Mosi Tatupu Award, which is presented annually to college football's Special Teams Player of the Year, said, "Mosi Tatupu was one of the first truly great special teams players. He set the stage for a lot of us to follow. It was an honor to win a special teams award in his name back in 2003 and then have the opportunity to meet him here in New England. As a Patriot, I have learned even more about the impact that Mosi had on this franchise and in this community. He will be sadly missed. My heart goes out to his family."
Tatupu was honored as a special-teamer on the Patriots' 50th anniversary team in September and participated in a ceremony at Gillette Stadium during halftime of the Patriots' 2009 season opener.
Tatupu was born on April 26, 1955, in Pago Pago, American Samoa, and later moved to Hawaii, where he starred as a high school running back and is considered one of the greatest athletes in Hawaiian history. He played collegiately at USC and was picked by the Patriots in the eighth round of the 1978 draft.
At the time of his death, Tatupu was running backs coach at Curry College in Milton, Mass. Tatupu had also coached his son Lofa Tatupu -- now a linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks -- at King Philip Regional High School in Wrentham, Mass.
ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss and The Associated Press contributed to this report.