SIOUX CITY | This time is different for Spetlar Tonga.
Tonga, who has been the face of the Sioux City Bandits for many of his nine years with the team, is retiring after the 2013 season ended with a semifinal playoff loss to Salina. Tonga suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his knee in the fourth quarter of the game.
“I have always said that I would play until I had a son or daughter and we just found out a little while ago my wife is pregnant,” said the Bandits career leader in tackles. “I guess that just puts life into more of a perspective. Before the injury I knew I was going to retire.”
Tonga helped lead the Bandits to back-to-back American Professional Football League titles in 2011 and 2012, but is now looking at another lengthy recovery from left knee surgery Wednesday. He suffered the same injury in 2005 while playing for the Bandits.
“All I am thinking about was how much pain there was in 2005 so I am preparing mentally, but maybe it won’t be as bad this time,” Tonga said.
Tonga, 33, grew up in Independence, Mo., and credited his family upbringing for turning him into a fan favorite in Sioux City.
“I am a pretty friendly guy and I loved the fans like they were my brothers or sisters,” he said. “I grew up with five brothers and sisters and we had a strong church upbringing. You treat others as you wanted to be treated.
“I hope I treated the fans well and I got a lot of support from Sioux City which allowed me to be able to go into the city and give back and say thanks. I love Sioux City.”
Tonga played college football at Morningside before becoming a linebacker tackling machine for the Bandits. He played a total of 10 years of indoor football with one year with the Omaha Beef in 2009.
Although Tonga clearly values the friendships he gained though his years on the gridiron, bringing a pair of championships to Sioux City was important.
“It was a dream come true not only to be able to do it once but twice,” he said.
For Bandits defensive coordinator John Zevenbergen, who played with the linebacker at Morningside and with the Bandits, losing Tonga will have an impact in several ways.
“He plays with a lot of energy and passion and he loves the game of football,” Zevenbergen said. “He will be missed because of his experience and he has seen it all. It made my job easier because there are fewer things I have to coach with him on the field.”
For now, Tonga will concentrate on his rehab and preparing for a new addition to the family with his wife, Sheenah, but he is not ruling out still being connected with the Bandits.
“In the future, if there is a place for me to coach that is something I would like, but we will have to see what happens,” said Tonga, who has been an assistant for the Briar Cliff football team for eight years.