Wednesday, August 4, 1999
to host playoff
Though the decision will costBy Pat Bigold
the team's owners tens of thousands
of dollars, they will give the players
the right they earned with
a strong season
In a move driven more by sentiment than financial logic, the Hawaii Hammerheads ownership last night committed to hosting an Indoor Professional Football League playoff game.
The decision, which ignited a roar that could be heard from the street below the club's second-floor office on Kapiolani Boulevard about 7:30 p.m., was announced in a closed-door meeting with players.
Team co-owner George Hetherington, who before yesterday wanted to send the Hammerheads on the road to a more lucrative gate after they clinched home-field advantage, said the franchise could lose as much as $50,000 in the next few weeks.
"But I respect our kids a lot, and they deserve to play at home because they earned it," said Hetherington, acknowledging the sacrifices his players have made to travel most of the season and play for the modest IPFL stipend of $200 a game.
The third-place Mississippi Firedogs (8-7), the biggest drawing franchise in the IPFL, had made an all-out bid to reverse league policy and host the second-place Hammerheads (10-5) on Aug. 14. They offered to take care of the team's travel, lodging and food in Biloxi, Miss. In addition, the Firedogs' ownership would reduce its host share of the gate from the league standard 65 percent to 50 percent.
"George talked for a half hour before he surprised us by saying Mississippi could take their money and shove it," said defensive back Eddie Klaneski, the team's emotional and statistical leader.
"About the whole team was there and everybody started cheering and got all juiced up to hear him say that. Now we know he's with us, and we have to go out and get this win for George."
Two days ago, Klaneski had suggested that players might refuse to go if Mississippi was handed the home site.
Fueling the emotion of the issue was the fact that Hawaii's successful run through the league despite adverse scheduling conditions and the loss of several key players was almost wholly unexpected in the IPFL. The chances of Hawaii winning the right to host a playoff were considered minimal.
But last night, players, coaches and owners of Hawaii's only pro sports franchise were expressing faith the Hammerheads could go all the way.
The team closes out its regular season tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Blaisdell Arena against the Louisiana Bayou Beast (5-10).
Hetherington, who joined co-owners Robert Wu, John Farias and Carl Hennrich in committing funds to the playoff at the Blaisdell Arena, said the club could have made about $25,000 in Biloxi, where paid attendance was expected to be over 6,000.
At the Blaisdell, where paid attendance has averaged below 1,000, he said the franchise could lose about the same.
Hetherington's outlook was further dimmed yesterday when he found that the paid attendance from Sunday's game was not the originally estimated 1,800, but well under 1,000.
And it could get worse.
If the Hammerheads beat Mississippi, the cost of sending them to play for the IPFL championship in Austin, Texas, on Aug. 21 against the regular-season champion Texas Terminators (11-4), should double the owners' losses.
If Hawaii loses to Mississippi, plane tickets now purchased for the Texas trip will be nonrefundable.
Asked why ownership was suddenly willing to risk such losses, Hetherington said his heart wouldn't allow him to crunch numbers in his players' faces.
"I remembered Calvin Mims telling me before the season that all he wanted to do was to play on a winning team," he said.
Hetherington said he realized that Mims and 11 other former Hawaii Rainbows, who suffered through all or part of the program's 0-18 streak, make up half of the Hammerheads' roster.
"We weren't real sure what was going to happen when we went up there in the meeting," said Klaneski, who had expressed outrage Sunday that the home field advantage might be sacrificed for financial reasons.
"But I remember that George was the only owner who came out to our practices. And it feels good now to know we have both the coaches and the ownership behind us."
Klaneski has never played on a winning team from his days at Damien Memorial through his stint at the university.
"This is the right thing to do," said Hetherington. "The kids earned the home field and we're going to let them keep it."
IPFL commissioner Mike Storen, former president and general manager of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, said yesterday that it "would be a crime" if Hawaii yielded the home field. But he said that if the two teams were in agreement to move the playoff site, he would give his permission.
Storen, who was also founder of the Indiana Pacers and the American Basketball Association commissioner who oversaw that league's merger with the NBA, heaped criticism on the Hawaii franchise for its current situation.
"I do not share sympathy that they (Hammerheads) have not been as (financially) successful as other teams in the league," said Storen.
"The problem is they have not done the things they need to do to operate a franchise. They need a full-time sales staff and a full-time publicity director. This is not a complicated business."
Storen said he believes Hawaii can become what he called, "a cornerstone franchise."
Hetherington said the team is not "deeply indebted," as previously reported.
"We are paying our bills but we are losing a lot of money."