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Bill Kwon

Sports Watch

By Bill Kwon

Saturday, September 9, 2000

UH openers: The good,
bad and ugly

WHEN it comes to season openers for the University of Hawaii football team, there hasn't been much aloha at Aloha Stadium.

Tonight's season opener against Portland State is the 26th since the 50,000-seat stadium opened in 1975.

UH has posted only a so-so 13-12 won-lost record in home openers at Aloha Stadium. Then, maybe it's not so bad, considering that it has lost five of the past six openers.

Quick trivia question: What was that only victory?

Hardly a trivial answer: 17-3 over Minnesota to kick off the 1997 season.

What is it about Hawaii and Big Ten opponents when it comes to season openers?

Three of the 13 UH victories were over the Gophers, the Iowa Hawkeyes (1988) and the Wisconsin Badgers (1986).

The 27-24 victory over 21-point favorite Iowa ranks as probably Hawaii's greatest upset in front of hometown fans.

Jason Elam, then a freshman, kicked the winning field goal with 1:36 left in the game. Because of the time difference, he waited several hours before calling his parents back home in Georgia to tell them what happened. At first, they didn't believe him.

It's typical, because there has never been a dull moment when it comes to UH openers.

They range from the good to the bad and the ugly.

Let's start with the good.

It doesn't get any better than that 27-24 victory over Iowa. Also the aforementioned victories over Minnesota and Wisconsin.

But nothing was more rousing than the 36-32 win over Brigham Young in the 1992 home opener after road victories at Oregon and Air Force.

The Rainbows went on to win their first Western Athletic Conference football championship and the Holiday Bowl, beating Illinois, to finish with a school-record 11 victories.

Three heart-breaking opening losses were to BYU (13-12) in 1994, Kansas (33-27) in 1985 and Boston College (24-21) in 1996. The BC game was particularly painful because the Eagles kicked the game-winning field goal with no time left.

NOBODY will disagree what was the ugliest of the ugly openers. It was last season's 62-7 hammering by the USC Trojans in June Jones' coaching debut. A horrendous traffic snarl before the game made it even worse.

Fans marvel about the turnaround season as UH won nine games after that licking.

But it should be kept in mind that the comeback started after the 55-point loss that extended UH's losing streak to 19 in a row. That's from how far the team came back.

Only two openers were more embarrassing than last year's loss to Southern Cal. Both were administered by Texas A&I in back-to-back years, including a 43-9 drubbing in the very first football game played at Aloha Stadium on Sept. 13, 1975.

Texas A&M in 1990 and the University of Texas in 1995 each gave Hawaii grief in games that weren't as close as the scores indicated. The Aggies won, 28-13, while the Longhorns ran away, 38-17, with freshman Ricky Williams giving a preview of what would be his record-setting career.

Of all the season openers, though, nothing was over before it was over faster than the 1998 game against Dick Tomey's Arizona Wildcats.

Who can forget Arizona's Chris McAlister catching the opening kickoff and returning it 100 yards for a touchdown?

After 16 seconds of the game, it was Arizona 7-0. The Rainbows never recovered and went 0-12 -- the worst record in school history.

That led to the firing of Fred vonAppen and the beginning of the June Jones Era, which starts Year II tonight.

Bill Kwon has been writing about
sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1959.

E-mail to Sports Editor

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