The Greatest Season
Reflections on life as a UH fan.
(page 1 of 2)
Illustration by Scott Pollack
Sure, the team would go on to lose the Allstate Sugar Bowl, and its coach, June Jones, would, within a week of the Sugar Bowl defeat, sign a five-year, $10-million contract to take the coaching reins at Southern Methodist University. The most momentous occasions often yield the most unexpected outcomes.
But at that moment, the team was unstoppable, and I was lucky to be there, on a sunny Friday afternoon at, arguably, the most important football game in Hawaii history. The winner of the game would not only claim the outright WAC title, but also keep alive its hopes for a possible Bowl Championship Series (BCS) game. Just as important to us fans was the fact that the defending champion Broncos had won six straight games against Hawaii. Would this be the night the Warriors finally vanquish their rival?
I was there as part of the ESPN 1420 team, which was broadcasting the game on local radio as well as worldwide via the Internet. If I were any closer to the action, I’d probably have had to put on shoulder pads and a helmet. Just minutes before kickoff, I took a visual sweep around the stadium, taking in the sights and sounds of everything going on around me.
The players from both teams prowled the sidelines, seemingly all business, but with a pent-up energy that was almost tangible, like a lit stick of dynamite ready to blow. The UH band was pumping out the school fight song (“Here’s to our dear Hawaii, here’s to our green and white …”). The muffled roar of the crowd kept growing, building, rising to a joyous crescendo.
Walking toward the Hawaii sideline, I glanced up toward the top of the stadium and found a familiar, comforting sight: Red Level, Section HH. And that’s when three words came back to me.
“These seats suck!”
Instantly, my mind flashed back to the late 1970s, when I was a whiny teenager who couldn’t understand why we were stuck in the nosebleed section while so many other fans got to sit in the Orange Level, so much closer to the action.
“These seats suck. Why can’t we get better seats?” I constantly nagged.
“When you get a job, you can buy your own seats,” was my mom’s standard reply.
Dick Tomey was the head coach at the time. The former UCLA assistant had come to Hawaii and, much like June Jones would do some 20 years later, revitalized the state university’s struggling football program.
Caught up in football fever, my family purchased season tickets to the games the year after Tomey’s arrival. There were six of us in all: my mom, my dad, my uncle Millard, my younger brothers Rick and Duane, and myself. We never missed a game. My family loved UH football. We’d cheer every Hawaii score, boo the referees and cringe every time a player lay injured on the field. My uncle or dad would buy us hotdogs and saimin during the third quarter, and, win or lose, we’d talk about the game all the way home from the stadium.
Naturally, I had to be the one who ended our family tradition. As the seasons passed, and I became interested in other things, I found excuses to not attend the games. Going to a game, in fact, became a chore. By the late 1980s, we gave up our season tickets.
I didn’t realize this at the time, but other than annual holiday dinners, going to the games was the last activity we’d do as a family. We all got preoccupied with other things—careers, relationships, illnesses and so forth. I wish it hadn’t turned out that way, but it did.
Through it all, I never stopped following the Warriors. The program grew and matured as I did, and enjoyed moments of success and periods of abysmal failure.
June Jones replaced Fred von Appen after the 1998 season and immediately turned the team’s fortune around. As it turned out, the Jones era culminated in the memorable 2007 season, when the Warriors went a perfect 12-0 in the regular season.