On Oct. 28, 1989, the University of Hawaii football team upset 18th-ranked Brigham Young University 56-14. It was a glorious moment.

UH head coach Bob Wagner said that the win over BYU was “the most perfect game, execution-wise, that I’ve ever been involved with.”

Aloha Stadium was sold out. Heisman candidate and future NFL starter Ty Detmer was humbled, and everyone in the state was proud to be a ’Bow.

(Remember? They were the Rainbows back then, yet to be rebranded as Warriors in black.)

At the time, I was in my first year of graduate school at UH. The Berlin Wall would fall that November, but the only thing folks in Hawaii could talk about was the BYU game, which was rebroadcast several times on local television.

It’s now 23 years later. The Warriors have posted a 1-4 record so far, with those losses amounting to a 217-48 point drubbing.

The lone UH win was a 54-2 romp over the Lamar University Cardinals, a team whose 2012 schedule includes other football “powerhouses” like Prairie View A&M and McNeese State.

Over the past 14 years, UH has witnessed a carousel of athletic directors and head coaches, only one of whom had a strong winning record: June Jones, the man who walked on water. During that time, stadium attendance has spiraled downward and the athletic department has rung up deficits.

One solution has been fundraisers, including the botched Stevie Wonder “concert” that has cost the university $1.3 million and counting. The story has dominated local media for months, and not just on the sports page. It’s even found its way into the elections and government, with lawmakers pressuring school officials.

This Friday, the UH Board of Regents will meet Friday to discuss firing President M.R.C. Greenwood in part because of her handling of the Wonder fiasco.

Someone has to ask the question: Should UH get rid of its football program instead of its president?

Committing Sacrilege

The answer, for many in Hawaii, is “absolutely not.”

Football is the state’s most cherished sport; because we have no professional sports team, UH football is as close at it gets. The next closest we get is the Pro Bowl.

No wonder Gov. Neil Abercrombie was vilified for daring to suggest, as he did last year, that paying for early childhood education is more important than giving the NFL $4 million a year to host the annual AFC-NFC scrimmage in Honolulu.

To even suggest that UH get rid of its football team and stick with cheaper — and more successful — sports like volleyball is sacrilege.

Of course, there is still time for Norm Chow to turn his boys around. Other teams in the Mountain West are struggling, too, like UNLV and Colorado State. Maybe UH will pull off upsets over rivals Fresno State (4-1) and No. 24 Boise State (4-2).

Or, maybe it will be another season on par with that of Fred von Appen’s 0-12 finale or Greg McMackin’s $600,000 buyout.

Politics At Play

Concern over UH football has burst into the Capitol this year like “the Flyin’ Hawaiian” Kealoha Pilares on a go route.

During state Sen. Donna Mercado Kim’s public interrogation of Greenwood last month over the Wonder blunder, the UH president was also questioned about replacing Athletics Director Jim Donovan and going over his head to move UH from the Western Athletic Conference to the Mountain West.

At the time, Greenwood said, “I have learned here that if it is about football, it’s not going to be left to the normal process, because it so important to the public.”

She also acknowledged that football is a “special problem” in all public research universities.

Because football is much more important than all other programs, Greenwood said, a lot of powerful people weigh in on its direction. She’s never been challenged over the hiring of a dean of Natural Sciences.

It was around this time that someone in the conference committee hearing room at the Capitol — a huge Warriors fan — texted me, “Football is THE driving force in getting the public’s support for the costs of higher education.”

But that raises another question: Is football in Hawaii more important than education?

No Fairweather Fan

Before the hate email comes my way, let me share a little background.

My parents are from the Midwest, and I lived in Lincoln, Neb., when the Cornhuskers under Bob Devaney were back-to-back national champions in 1970-1971.

My first University of Nebraska game was a blowout over Bowling Green. Memorial Stadium was a sold-out sea of 65,000 fans in red. In 2010, the stadium averaged 85,664 fans per game — larger than the population of Kauai.

Johnny Rodgers, the NU superstar that won the Heisman Trophy in 1972, visited my grade school — the only black man I recall seeing at my lilly-white Lincoln school.

Devaney’s successor, Tom Osborne — later a U.S. congressman and today NU athletic director — attended my church. When he finally took the team back to the No. 1 spot in 1994 by winning the Orange Bowl, I wept.

Like Hawaii, Nebraska has no professional sports team. I followed the Minnesota Vikings, watching them lose three Super Bowls with quarterback Fran Tarkenton. I now follow the Denver Broncos, and when John Elway — who trained at summer camp at the university I attended in Colorado — executed the come-from-behind victory against the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl in 1998, I was too drunk to weep.

The Sports Illustrated cover with Tim Tebow is taped to the side of my desk at work, even though I no longer attend church. I don’t follow Nebraska games anymore, although my parents still do. And I’m hoping Peyton Manning pulls out of his slump this year and doesn’t get re-injured.

What about the Warriors?

I’ll admit to mixed loyalties, in part because I have seen how terribly neglected most facilities are at UH. In fact, they have been that way since I was in grad school, and the repair and maintenance backlog has only grown. So have tuition costs.

But, that 12-1 season in 2007, despite the crushing Sugar Bowl loss, was magical. I caught most of the games on radio, and I listened raptly with friends or family as Colt Brennan delivered those unbelievable fourth-quarter comebacks.

‘Fighting Deans’

Wikipedia has a page for the UH football team. I can’t vouch for its authenticity, but it offers quite an interesting history that helps provide context.

Among the finds:

• 1909: The College of Hawaii “Fighting Deans” defeated 95–5 Punahou School at McKinley High School.
• 1923: A rainbow appeared over Moiliili Field after Hawaii upset Oregon State; reporters dubbed them “Rainbows.”
• 1935: Rainbow running back and future coach Thomas Kaulukukui became Hawaii’s first All-American player.
• 1942: Following the Pearl Harbor attack, Hawaii cancelled the 1942, ’43, ’44 and ’45 football seasons.
• 1955: After a 50–0 blowout loss to Nebraska in Honolulu, the Rainbows upset the Huskers 6–0 in Lincoln.
• 1961: UH Board of Athletic Control voted to abolish the program due to a lack of finances.
• 1965: Larry Price performed in his third Hula Bowl as a College All-Star after a stint in the U.S. Army.
• 1971: Larry Cole became the first former Warrior to represent UH in a Super Bowl (for the Dallas Cowboys).
• 1974: Hawaii became an NCAA Division I member; the team’s new nickname was the “’Bows.”
• 1986: Defensive end Al Noga became the first Hawaii player to be named a first-team All-American by the AP.
• 1989: Hawaii played in the program’s first major bowl game, the Jeep Eagle Aloha Bowl.
• 1992: Hawaii won a share of its first-ever WAC championship and posted its first bowl game victory.
• 1998: Hawaii had its program’s first-ever winless season, going 0–12 under head coach von Appen.
• 1999: June Jones guided the Warriors to the best single-season turnaround in NCAA history.
• 2006: Jones passed Dick Tomey as winningest head coach in school history.
• 2007: Colt Brennan was selected for the second year in a row as a Heisman Finalist.

Which brings us back to the question about keeping a football team at UH.

I’m realistic. I know that Tom Apple faces better odds of lasting as Manoa chancellor for five years than the Warriors do in being scrubbed for good.

Still, I hope this article will foster dialogue about the role of football in our major institute of higher learning, where the top priority could — and should — be providing a quality education.

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