Monday, August 23, 1999
By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Roy Ma'afala holds up the Hammerheads' IPFL championship
trophy as teammates Andy Ramos and Morrie Roe celebrate
with champagne upon arriving at the airport yesterday
After a tumultuous season,By Pat Bigold
Hawaii returns home with
The victorious Hawaii Hammerheads came home on two separate flights yesterday to boisterous terminal welcomes.
Co-owners George Hetherington and Robert Wu arrived with the first group and immediately declared they would give each player and coach a diamond-studded championship ring decorated with the team's black and teal.
They also answered the question on many lips: Can the Hammerheads afford to continue as a franchise?
"We're definitely coming back," Wu said.
"We'll be back in a big way," added Hetherington, who weeks ago said the club was losing badly at the gate.
But through the cheers, hugs, smiles and leis, the new Indoor Professional Football League champions looked like they needed a week in bed.
That's because what they endured in Austin, Texas, on Saturday night to win Hawaii's first pro football title took exceptional courage, according to Hammerheads trainer Alex Lo.
"You had to be there to understand how it was," Lo said.
He said the temperature inside the Travis County Expo Center, where Hawaii (12-6) rallied in the final 87 seconds to shock the regular-season champion Texas Terminators, 28-13, was nearly 100 degrees at game time.
He said the Hawaii bench had only a four-foot-high air conditioning unit and an industrial floor fan for ventilation. But he said those devices gave little relief in the non-air-conditioned facility.
"I'd say each player lost about five pounds of water in the game," Lo said. "Looking at the offensive line, I could see them sweating profusely. I never saw players sweat like that."
Lo said that when head coach Guy Benjamin took the team to practice in the arena on Friday afternoon, he was stunned at the indoor environment. He said the arena was more like a big stable.
"It was 105 degrees outside and 110 inside," he said.
"The only way we won was sheer determination," said Benjamin.
"Everything was so against us, but we pulled through with our hearts," said 6-foot-3, 330-pound IPFL all-star guard Roy Ma'afala.
Hawaii saw a precarious one-point lead slip away with 1:45 left in the game when Todd Fitzgerald booted a 36-yard field goal to give Texas its 13-11 lead.
After Carey's touchdown run and two-point conversion pass to Calvin Mims gave Hawaii a 19-13 lead, the Terminators had more than a minute to get it back.
On indoor football's 50-yard field, leads can change quickly.
But within 20 seconds, IPFL defensive player of the year Chris Paogofie quieted the Texas crowd of 4,527 for good.
Ken Otte, a 6-5, 265-pound lineman who had seven inches and 60 pounds on Paogofie, picked up the ensuing kickoff and started to advance it inside Hawaii territory.
"Chris caught him straight in his chest, right underneath his chin," said older brother, Sasae, who was also playing special teams. "Then all I saw was (Otte's) legs up in the air."
Niko Vitale scooped up the fumble and ran it 23 yards for the touchdown that iced the game.
"I just saw this big guy running through the line and I just came up and knocked the crap out of him," said Chris Paogofie, known as the IPFL's hardest hitter.
"They say offense wins game, but defense wins championships, and I give all the credit to our defense," said Ma'afala.
Doug Semones, the Hammerheads defensive coordinator who led the second group of Hammerheads off a Delta flight, authored a game plan that held the league's highest-scoring offense 27 points below its average.
His secondary held Texas quarterback James Brown to 88 yards - half his regular production. Semones' defense caused five turnovers (three fumbles and two interceptions) while managing to hold Texas scoreless in the first and third quarters.
"We're a physical group of guys and we put the wood on 'em all night," he said.