All-American putBy Ben Henry
Hawaii in national game
Special to the Star-Bulletin
HE was a popular actor, a professional baseball player and a politician. But Herman Wedemeyer's pioneering accomplishments as a football player in the 1940s made him a legend.
His greatest gift to Hawaii came from his time on the football field.
"The type of role model that Herman Wedemeyer was, he played the game for all the right reasons because he loved the game," said Russ Francis, who was drafted in the first round (16th overall) by the New England Patriots in 1975. "What he showed a lot of kids in Hawaii like myself, is that we don't have to feel inferior or intimidated by ... athletes on the mainland."
Wedemeyer, who died Jan. 25 this year at the age of 74, was an All-American football player at St. Mary's College in California and a regular on television's "Hawaii Five-O," playing Edward D. "Duke" Lukela, from 1971-1980.
Francis, a Kailua native who was the second player from Hawaii drafted in the first round and is one of five all-time, says Wedemeyer put Hawaii on the football map.
"He brought a real focus on Hawaii from college scouts and head coaches," Francis said. "When those coaches started paying attention to the players coming from Hawaii because of people like Herman Wedemeyer, then the pros started paying attention."
He was the first from Hawaii to be named to the All-American first team. Today, he remains Hawaii's only Heisman finalist, finishing fourth, and is the only member of the College Football Hall of Fame from Hawaii.
"I would class him as one of the greatest halfbacks of Hawaii," said Tommy Kaulukukui, 84, the University of Hawaii head coach in 1947 when Hawaii played St. Mary's before 28,000 at an overflowing Honolulu Stadium.
Wedemeyer, whose elusiveness earned him the nickname "Squirmin' Herman," also had a brief stint as a minor-league baseball player during World War II with the Salt Lake City Bees.
"For people to see that he was acceptable at (the college) level was a great inspiration," Francis said. "He was thrilled to go out and test the limits."