ONE OF the most terrifying moments in the career of Viking
noseguard Esera Tuaolo did not take place on a football field.
It happened on a basketball court in early 1990, when Tuaolo was
a junior at Oregon State. His assignment before a Beaver game
was to sing the national anthem. "I was fine until they
announced my name and the whole place went silent," Tuaolo says.
"I was shaking until I got the first note out. When you're
singing, the first note is like the first hit in a football
game. The butterflies go away."

For the next five years, beyond an occasional Star-Spangled
Banner--including guest appearances before Minnesota Timberwolf
and Portland Trail Blazer games--Tuaolo confined his singing to
the shower. But in July he launched his professional career with
a gig at a Minneapolis bistro called The Fine Line Music Cafe,
an apt setting for an aggressive 6'2", 263-pound sacker. The
audience included his mother, Maina, who had flown in from the
family's home in Honolulu for the occasion. "I saw her start
crying during the first song," says Tuaolo. "She was so proud.
All those years of making me sing in church paid off."

Tuaolo describes his style as "eclectic," adding, "I do
everything from country to rhythm and blues. Even opera,
sometimes. I don't do rap, though."

The fifth-year pro saves his rapping for the playing field.
After finishing his career at Oregon State, where he set school
records for sacks, tackles for a loss and quarterback pressures,
Tuaolo was taken by the Packers in the second round of the 1991
draft. As a rookie he started all 16 games at nosetackle for
Green Bay, collecting 3 1/2 sacks and intercepting a pass. But
four games into the '92 season the Packers released him after
signing Keith Millard, and seven weeks later he signed with the
Vikings.

When All-Pro Henry Thomas left Minnesota this past off-season to
sign with the Lions, Tuaolo was given the starting job, and he
has made the most of the opportunity. Going into the
Thanksgiving Day game against the Lions, Tuaolo has racked up 38
tackles, three sacks and three tackles for a loss. In
Minnesota's crucial 27-24 win over Green Bay on Nov. 5, which
moved the Vikings within two games of the division-leading
Bears, Tuaolo recovered a Packer fumble with the score tied at
24 late in the fourth quarter. Earlier in the game he had sacked
quarterback Brett Favre, who had been his roommate on the road
during his Green Bay days, for an eight-yard loss. "I didn't
taunt him," Tuaolo says. "I just did my little dance."

The Vikings' song-and-dance man counts Favre among his best
friends. When Tuaolo made an off-season visit to Favre's
Mississippi home, the two made a side trip to New Orleans, where
Favre introduced Tuaolo to the honky-tonks of Bourbon Street.
"In one of them, I was able to get up and sing," Tuaolo says.
"It was intimidating."

This fall Tuaolo has been performing regularly at Ivories, a
piano bar in suburban Minneapolis. He is also working with local
songwriter Rob Rivera on a CD that he hopes to market in Hawaii,
Oregon and Minnesota. One of the original songs, Listen to Me,
has been made into a video that has been shown on the Black
Entertainment Television network. And in March, Tuaolo will be
the opening act on a USO tour of Alaska, France and Spain. "You
can't play football forever," says Tuaolo, "so I'm going to try
to tap into the music industry to get my foot in that second
door."

On a recent flight to California, Tuaolo encountered a
middle-aged woman who thought he reminded her of someone
famous--though not an athlete. "Do you know," said the woman,
"that from your profile, you look very much like the young
Elvis?" Tuaolo almost felt like breaking into song.

--W.F.R.

COLOR PHOTO: LAYNE KENNEDY The Vikings' defensive lineman is tuning up for a second career. [Esera Tuaolo singing]
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)