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Vai Sikahema: Hometown Hero Anywhere He Goes

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NIck Laham
    Vai Sikahema backs up everything he does.

    A three-part series in Salt Lake City’s Deseret News focuses on a former Eagle close to our hearts here at the Birds Nest -- NBC10 Sports director Vai Sikahema.

    Yes, the same guy who was the man in Tecmo Super Bowl and punched the goalpost after returning the longest punt in Eagles history.

    But the true focus of the piece is that be it his native Tonga, Arizona where he grew up, Utah where he went to school and still visits often or Philadelphia where he lives and works, Vai is beloved.

    The series, which ran last weekend, by Doug Robinson focuses on Vai’s ascent from a Tongan boxer to the NFL (Part 1), his work in his home Tonga (Part 2) and his Mormon faith (Part 3).

    Robinson sums up why Vai deserves all this attention:

    His is the classic American success story and the fight a symbol of his life. He immigrated to the U.S. from a tiny island in the South Pacific and, through fierce determination and work ethic, he became a star football player at BYU, a player in the NFL, a college graduate, a popular TV journalist and personality, a beacon for his fellow Tongans and a regional leader of his church. And he's not finished yet.

    There are plenty of great tidbits in the features but here are a few of my personal favorites:

    Vai Sikahema, like his seafaring forebears, has struck out for a distant place, far from poverty and the Pacific, settling in the sports-mad, blue-collar, gritty city of Philadelphia. In his post-football life, he has made a second career of talking about sports on TV and radio. He earns a big paycheck, owns a nice home, has a wife and four children, and the respect and love of an entire city.
    "Hey, Vai!" people call out as he makes his way around Philadelphia. "Yo, Vai, you da man!" He is approached by well-wishers and fans in restaurants and standing on corners and walking the street.
    "He is loved in Philadelphia," says Danny Humphrey, a financial analyst and Sikahema's cousin. "He hasn't paid a toll in years. The tollbooth attendants know him by name. They say, 'Vai, your money's no good here.'"

    Hold on, Vai gets free trips out of New Jersey?

    But Vai still appreciates how far he has come and the symbol he has become to his people.

    Sikahema has been a pioneer for his people. First Tongan to win a football scholarship to BYU. First Tongan to play in the National Football League. First Tongan to play in the Pro Bowl.

    He forgot to mention first Tongan to cover the Olympics -- possibly even go to an Olympic Games.

    "I recognize what I've accomplished and what it means to Tongans," he says. "It's frustrating to me that these Tongan kids -- the first generation of Tongan Americans -- have been afforded every opportunity that American kids are afforded, and they are not taking advantage of it."
    Sikahema continues. "I appreciate my life. Every day, I get up thankful. It's impossible to forget the sacrifices my parents made."

    A large part of Vai’s life is his dedication to his faith.

    Sikahema's faith infuses every aspect of his life. He currently serves as second counselor in a stake presidency, and he talks openly about his beliefs on the air when they are relevant to topics of the day.
    "We know that his religion is very important to him," says Chris Blackman, WCAU's vice president of news. "It's a part of him, but without being overbearing."

    Well check out the three-part series for the greatest Tecmo Super Bowler to ever come out of Tonga.

    Note: Vai also writes occasionally for the Deseret News: Click here to check out some of his stories.