Friday, June 15, 2001
[ HULA BOWL ]
Hula BowlMarcia Klompus was at the old Aloha Bowl office when she got the call.
Given up for dead 7 1/2
years ago, the college
all-star game appears to
be coming back stronger
By Paul Arnett
"They've given us 10 minutes to decide whether we want to save the Hula Bowl," husband Lenny Klompus said to her on the phone that fateful October day in 1994.
That took care of the first minute. The remaining nine?
"Well, Brian DiMarino and myself spent the rest of the time talking about it," Lenny Klompus said yesterday, then smiled briefly at the memory.
"I think it was our third meeting with the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, when the director told us enough talking, it's time to decide. Against my better judgment, I said yes."
What transpired over the next 712 years is something the Hula Bowl directors never envisioned. From no sponsor and a stack of bills to yesterday's all-star marriage with the National Football League, this is a turnaround worthy of mention.
"My own wife thought I was crazy, maybe I was," Lenny Klompus said. "But to stand up here today and announce we're going to be a part of an all-star weekend with the Pro Bowl is hard to imagine."
After yesterday's press conference announcing the new deal that will move the Hula Bowl from its traditional date in January to Feb. 2, the day before the Pro Bowl, most folks wondered why they hadn't seen the potential of the partnership before.
Had Klompus presented this idea to anyone in October of 1994, he would have been asked if he needed directions to the state facility in Kaneohe.
Instead, he signed a five-year sponsorship deal with Hooters and convinced ESPN-TV to come along for the ride. He successfully courted the Heisman Trophy committee and American Football Coaches Association director Grant Teaff, who recently agreed to a new long-term working agreement with the Hula Bowl.
Together, and with the help of then-Maui mayor Linda Lingle, they made the bold move of taking the game from Aloha Stadium to Maui War Memorial Stadium, in retrospect, a wise decision.
"I know I surprised Coach Teaff when I asked him if he would consider Maui," Lingle said after yesterday's press conference. "Now to be here today to see how this game has grown is truly inspiring. We need more ideas like this in government."
It's true that recent sponsor Rivals.com went under, leaving the Hula Bowl in need of someone with deep pockets. But with the new marketing agreement with the NFL in place, complete with ESPN through 2007 and the County of Maui until 2008, can a major title sponsor be too far behind?
"Hopefully not," Lenny Klompus said. "We haven't really been entertaining too many offers because we wanted to see if this deal with the NFL could be worked out. Now that it has, I believe it makes us even more attractive. All the ingredients are in place."
Not only will the respective all-star games be played on the same weekend, Pro Bowl players are expected to take part in the Heisman Trophy golf tournament on Maui and the Hula Bowl players will be invited to the Pro Bowl.
The involvement doesn't end there. Now that the NCAA no longer sanctions bowl games, it opens the door for more NFL assistants to take a direct role in the practices and games.
College coaches will still be involved -- 2000 national champion Bob Stoops of Oklahoma will be on one sideline -- but the current format where coaches from the Division I-AA, II and III levels take part may be modified in the future.
There's also the possibility of inviting underclassmen who declare early.
For example, if a junior wins the Heisman Trophy and he's skipping his senior season, there's nothing to prevent that player from being invited to the Hula Bowl.
"We are committed to following the rules of the NCAA," Klompus said. "Coach Teaff in our release made mention of that. We're not going to become another Senior Bowl."
Moving the game to February does avoid a direct conflict with the Senior Bowl. In the past, that NFL-run college all-star game has garnered a majority of the top talent. But that no longer figures to be a problem.
NFL vice president for special events Jim Steeg was a key part of this new arrangement. He hopes to hold events where the top players from the Hula Bowl compete with the Pro Bowl stars, including a quarterback challenge.
"We're very excited about all the possibilities," Steeg said. "This is going to be a great all-star weekend for the fans and the players. I first mentioned the possibility of this to Lenny in February. As the idea grew, we knew we had a winner."
It's a wonder no one has thought of it before. Of course, in 1994, not getting voted off the island was the order of the day.
"A lot of people thought this game was a dinosaur headed toward extinction," Lenny Klompus said. "But with faith and a lot of hard work from so many different people, we feel like we have helped continue the great tradition of this game."