Springbok prop Tendai Mtawarira would make an excellent fullback in American football.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson hands the ball off to running back Marshawn Lynch on 3rd-and-2, and Beast Mode thunders towards the line, determined to earn a first down.
There’s a space opening up in the middle but 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman is moving up to plug it. Bowman, eyes wide at the opportunity to make a tackle-for-loss, is shaping to meet Lynch in the backfield. And that’s when a loud CRACK! rises above the sound of combat as charging Seahawks fullback Tendai Mtawarira lowers his helmet and connects with the side of Bowman’s facemask, sending the linebacker sprawling, and clearing the way for Lynch to move the sticks.
Mtawarira has the size and athleticism to be a prototypical fullback in the NFL, and he’d definitely be an upgrade for the Seahawks over Michael Robinson.
Historically, the fullback role was filled by large, powerful running backs or undersized tight ends – though Bears defensive tackle William 'The Refridgerator' Perry (1.88m, 186kg) famously doubled as a fullback for the mighty Chicago team of the mid-80s.
The primary task of a fullback is to lead-block for the running back.
Fullback Larry Csonka won two Super Bowls with Miami and was a key member of the unbeaten 1972 Dolphins. Tom Rathman blocked for the explosive Roger Craig as the 49ers won Super Bowl 23 and 24 and, more recently, Emmitt Smith slipstreamed behind fullback Daryl 'Moose' Johnston on the way to victory in Super Bowl 27, 28 and 30.
Though Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh made use of the fullback as a receiver in his fabled West Coast Offense during the '80s, the position remains an often under-utilised weapon on attack.
And that’s where retreaded running backs like Robinson feature – they’re just tough enough to pass as a lead blocker, but their pass-catching ability out of the backfield offers the quarterback a bail out against the blitz.
Mtawarira has the size and power to conquer linebackers at the point of contact and open holes for Beast Mode, but he’s also an explosive openfield runner with the kind of reliable hands that quarterbacks like.
Top fullbacks are paid between $700,000 and $1-million, so Mtawarira could earn almost triple what he’s currently being paid for a move to the NFL where he would play 16 league games and a maximum of four play-off matches per season.