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Bill Kwon

Sports Watch

By Bill Kwon

Saturday, December 2, 2000

Robinson isn’t
lacking Hawaii ties

WHEN it comes to six degrees of separation, movie actor Kevin Bacon has nothing on UNLV football coach John Robinson.

You could write volumes showing how Robinson is not far removed from anyone or anything to do with University of Hawaii football.

For one thing, going into tonight's game at Aloha Stadium, he's 1-0 against Hawaii.

Who can forget the time his University of Southern California Trojans played the Rainbows in a tense 21-5 battle that was closer than the score indicated. That was 22 years ago on this very day.

More on that later. Much more. The game is worthy of further review.

First, though, the most immediate relationship is between Robinson and the 50th State. He has been a frequent visitor here, including several stints as a Hula Bowl coach.

There's also the fact that Robinson coaches at Las Vegas, the No. 1 vacation spot that people from here would like to go. That says something, considering the rest of the world would rather come here.

Then, there's Robinson's relationship with UH coach June Jones. They've criss-crossed paths so often, they've lost track. But the last time they were on opposite sidelines before tonight's game was when they were NFL coaches.

Not only that, Robinson was Jones' quarterback coach at the University of Oregon. He even recruited Jones.

"We've been good friends for a long time," said Jones, who calls Robinson "Robbie." Don't ask if Robinson calls him Jonesy.

GUESS who was Robinson's top assistant in the 1978 game against the Rainbows?

Paul Hackett, who was just fired by USC. He had replaced Robinson. The same Hackett whose Trojans piled it on UH (62-7) in Jones' coaching debut last year and couldn't score a lick after that.

The UH coach in that 1978 game against Southern Cal?

Dick Tomey, who also recently separated himself from the University of Arizona after 14 seasons with the Wildcats.

Getting back to that 1978 game. Despite the Rainbows losing, it remains on my Top 10 list of memorable games in UH football history.

Nothing, of course, can beat UH's back-to-back victories over BYU in 1989 and 1990.

Robinson's Trojans came to town ranked No. 3 with the nation's best runner in Charles White, who was awarded the Heisman Trophy a couple of weeks later.

They had won the conference title in the first year of the Pac-10 as we now know it, and had seen the UH game as a good tune-up for the Rose Bowl with Michigan. They went on to beat the Big Ten champion and were voted national champions by UPI.

A legit turnstile crowd of 48,767 fans -- including thousands of Cardinal & Gold fans -- were stunned as the Trojans only led, 7-5, with less than eight minutes left in the game.

White, who thought he was going to play the first quarter, had to carry the ball 31 times for 152 hard-earned yards.

A bad snap on a punt in the end zone gave Hawaii a safety, and a 37-yard field goal by Peter Kim accounted for the other three points when a possible TD pass was dropped.

For degrees-of-separation fans, it's the same Peter Kim who now runs the concessions at Aloha Stadium.

The game turned on two interceptions by Ronnie Lott, who played against Jesse Sapolu, his future San Francisco 49er teammate.

Years later, when they were collecting Super Bowl championships rings, Sapolu still reminded Lott about how close the Trojans came to losing on the night of Dec. 2, 1978.

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

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