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Kalani Simpson

Sidelines

By Kalani Simpson

Saturday, October 27, 2001


Lelie’s foot had 35,000
fans up in arms

ARMS. All you saw were arms. Everywhere, at once, 70,000 arms, offered to the heavens -- raising, bouncing, hugging arms. On the field, in the rafters, on the walkways over the railings in the corners of Aloha Stadium, they were going crazy, happy crazy, and all you could see were arms.

It was good! It was good. He'd caught it. Hawaii would win. Forget hands, Ashley Lelie has the best left foot in the business, because it was in. It was in, it was down, it was good.

"Did he get the foot?" Hawaii quarterback Nick Rolovich asked later, still sweating, out of breath from interviews, out of breath with the wonder of it all. "That's amazing. That's amazing."

It was. It was a great catch, a pro catch, a leaping, reaching, stretching grab, but the best part was the foot.

"When I was coming down, I saw the pylon, the orange thing. And I was like, Yes, I'm in," Lelie said. "I just couldn't get up after that."

He didn't need to. He'd done enough. It was more than enough.

A state celebrated. They did it! They did it! They did it! They did it! You couldn't see the catch through the crowd, in the corner, but somehow you knew. Thirty-five thousand touchdown signals, 35,000 smiles said it all.

Then the clock ran down and UH stormed the field, coming together in a joyous mass, the air filling with objects, towels, footballs, helmets, everything. People held their heads, unable to take in the magnitude of it all, and the echoes cascaded gently, chillingly down to the field through the night air:

"Raaiiiin-bows! Raaiiiin-bows!"

"I'll never forget this game," Rolo said. "I'll never forget this game."

Hugs. Everywhere, hugs. June Jones tried to sneak off the field, hiding behind a grin, but Vince Manuwai wouldn't let him, chasing him, catching him, enveloping his coach in those massive arms, and Jones smiled some more.

He just couldn't help it. And then more hugs. He couldn't walk a few steps without stopping. And more. And more.

They went to the stands, running toward the familiar faces, for hugs and words, and then finally, reluctantly, they filtered toward the locker room.

But first one more stop here. And there.

"I don't care! I don't care!" shouted defensive back Gary Wright, going into convulsions at the mouth of the tunnel. "I'm throwing everything up there!" And he did, heaving gloves, armbands, tape, everything. The arms grabbed it all.

They were still there, in the stands, everyone standing, nobody moving. They would remember.

They would remember this night.

A win brings this much happiness. A great game does. An improbable, impossible, wonderful finish does. You could feel the hunger of the night, feel it when the stadium shook and when the team believed and when Nate Jackson somehow rounded the corner and caused a fumble and hope was real again.

"I knew he would play," Jones said. We all did.

You could feel the people at home, refusing to turn away from their TVs, not for a second. They'd miss too much. Laanui Correa's interception and rumble.

Hawaii's big comeback. The first one. Rolo's devastating interception. The first one. The flags. The fumbles. The final, fourth quarter, heart-stopping drive(s).

For three quarters Lelie was the invisible man, shut out, out of it, flat, nowhere. "The coaches stuck with me," he said. Then, a gift, a late hit on Lelie, Hawaii was alive, and Lelie was awake.

Three plays. You saw them. First-round draft pick plays, millionaire catches, Rolo throwing and Lelie going and getting them. "I don't know how I did it," he said. But his feet were in.

One final play. Thirteen seconds left. To Lelie in the right corner. The ball was in the air, Lelie reaching, the crowd waiting.

"Years," Rolo said. "It seemed like it took years."

Then time started again in a flash. Lelie's hands nabbed it out of the sky. His foot snuck in, his foot struck gold.

Arms.

"The whole country saw it," Jones said, the catches, the night, the game. The whole country felt it.

So did we. So did we.



Kalani Simpson's column runs Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays.
He can be reached at ksimpson@starbulletin.com



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