The story of Jesse Sapolu could have been a sad memoir, a cautionary tale for the toughest of men.
Simply put, Sapolu risked his life to play football.
The choices he made against the reality of a heart defect could have served as a warning for others. Instead, Sapolu, a Costa Mesa resident who starred as an offensive lineman for the San Francisco 49ers, serves as an inspiration. That was his primary intent.
The Sapolu story is not sad at all. You can read about him in his new book, "I Gave My Heart to San Francisco."
Sapolu, the 49ers alumni coordinator, left for New Orleans Thursday morning. On Thursday night, a photo of Sapolu with San Francisco Coach Jim Harbaugh was posted on his Facebook page: Jesse Sapolu's Men In The Trenches.
Sapolu's book was released in October. The timing proved to be seemingly perfect as it came during the 49ers' return to greatness.
Sapolu is a busy man, promoting the book and his 49ers. He also runs a football camp for linemen and works as a motivational speaker.
He was at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii last weekend.
In my brief dealings with Sapolu, I've recognized a humble man.
That character is seen in his book, too. He played the game for his name, but he also played for everyone else who dealt with a heart condition, especially the kids, he said.
He had several requests to write a book after retiring. But he said a tragic moment occurred that set the plans in motion.
Sapolu saw his youngest son Roman, a center at Oregon State, deal with the death of his friend, Fred Thompson, who died after collapsing while playing basketball. Thompson's death came from complications of an enlarged heart, Sapolu said.
"I came back from open-heart surgery so that other kids can have the opportunity that I have," Sapolu said, talking about the surgery he had in 1997 and returning to play his final season.
In his book, Sapolu writes about his upbringing, his motivation, his passion for the game of football and his love for his family and friends among other topics. He had plenty of motivation during a career that spanned 15 years and featured four Super Bowl rings, nine appearances in the NFC title game, two Pro Bowl appearances and two All-Pro selections.
What an amazing career, full of triumphant stories, all while dealing with an abnormal heart, a torn aortic valve. There were times, he admits, when pride and determination ruled his decision making.
He never wanted to tell anyone about his enlarged heart.
Concussions and contact to the head are the hot topics for football players during and after their careers. Sapolu dealt with that along with his heart condition.
But his motivation overcame his fear of death. He was passionate about playing for a dynasty. He was determined to be the best and prove he was much more than an 11th round draft pick (289th overall in 1983).