When they drop his name, they fumble Elewonibi a mouthful, hopes to be a handful

October 15, 1992|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

ASHBURN, Va. -- Mo Elewonibi had two thoughts when he went in to replace Jim Lachey in the second quarter Monday night.

"My mom was watching the game [on TV in Vancouver, British Columbia] and I hoped I didn't embarrass her. The biggest thing was that I hoped they'd say my name right," the Washington Redskins' 26-year-old offensive lineman said yesterday.

Elewonibi wound up batting .500.

He didn't embarrass his mother or the Redskins. He played well in the Redskins' 34-3 victory over the Denver Broncos.

They didn't get his name exactly right on the ABC-TV telecast, however.

"From what my mom said, they butchered it quite a bit," he said.

The correct pronunciation is Ella-wa-NEE-bee although he's used to hearing Elbow-wonibi or Elewannabee.

If Elewonibi keeps playing the way he did Monday night, they're going to start getting his name right.

That family name has an interesting history. His mother is a Canadian who was a secretary at a Canadian military academy where his father, Mohammed Elewonibi, a native of Nigeria, was studying.

"I was born in Nigeria and lived there for 12 years until my parents got divorced. My mother and I moved back to Canada," Elewonibi said.

His father now lives in London, where he owns a computer company, but his son has lost touch with him.

Elewonibi said he made an attempt to meet him when the Redskins played in London during the preseason, but he said simply, "It didn't happen." He said he left tickets for his father, but he doesn't know if they were picked up.

"We haven't talked in quite a few years," he said.

Elewonibi is now reluctant to talk about that part of his life and though the family split must have been traumatic, he puts a positive face on it.

"It was a new thing. In Nigeria, you only get a Saturday night variety show on TV. When I came to Canada, we had 12 stations. I had a great time," he said.

Elewonibi also had an unconventional route to the NFL. He didn't play football until he got to Snow College, a junior college in Utah, and they canceled the soccer program.

He adjusted quickly enough that he moved on to Brigham Young and won the Outland Trophy, an award he first heard of when he was named a finalist.

He'd suffered several shoulder injuries in college, however, and he flunked the physicals administered by several teams. That's why he lasted until the third round in the 1990 draft, when the Redskins selected him.

The shoulder injuries bothered him as a rookie and he sustained a knee injury last year and spent his first two years on injured reserve.

"I just kind of had to persevere. The guys didn't let me get down. They didn't make me feel alienated from the team and I got a Super Bowl ring so it wasn't that bad," he said.

When he tore a pectoral muscle in his shoulder in camp this year, he was in danger of being written off as an injury-prone player.

He kept playing in pain to show the coaches he could do it.

"I just couldn't sit out and not be practicing without showing them I could do something," he said.

He showed them enough that they put him on the IR list a third straight year to give him time to heal. When center Jeff Bostic was injured last week, they activated him, and Lachey's injury thrust him into the lineup.

He said he got a lot of support from his teammates. "They told me what happened when they first got in there when somebody else got injured. They told me to relax and enjoy myself," he said.

Elewonibi gets a test under fire Sunday, when the Redskins face the Philadelphia Eagles. He'll take on Clyde Simmons, one of the league's better ends, and the Redskins can't give him much help because they've got to worry about Reggie White on the other side.

Elewonibi hopes that he doesn't get noticed, and it's not because he's worried his name will be butchered.

"If I turn into a speed bump for Clyde Simmons, I'll get noticed," he said with a smile.

NOTES: The Redskins are so desperate for offensive linemen that they signed Mike Haight, who was cut by the Detroit Lions on Tuesday even though the Lions have line problems. To make room, Jim Lachey was put on the injured reserve list. Haight, cut by the Jets this year, was described by coach Joe Gibbs as "very smart and a class guy."

Redskins: Where now?

The Washington Redskins aren't exactly without a home, but you wouldn't know it by the discussion being generated over their future location. In a joint statement, Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder and Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke say plans are off to build a new stadium for the team in Virginia. In the wake of the announcement, the District of Columbia is continuing its discussions with the Redskins to renovate RFK Stadium or build a new stadium nearby. D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly says, "I think the natural home for this team is exactly where it is."

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