For some, it’s the real ‘Aloha’ bowl
IN past years it's been true that the players in the Hula Bowl were not just all-stars but future stars, the guys using this game to make their jump toward a career in the NFL.
But for these guys in this game at this time, yesterday, here, now, in 2006, it may be something very different. Let's face it, this is not the same game. These are not the same guys. For more than a few of them this may not be a springboard, but an ending.
But that could be something sweeter still.
For some of these guys, yesterday's Hula Bowl may have been their very last game.
That's almost certainly true for West receiver Jason Brown. He's a good player, had a good game. He caught two passes for 40 yards, including a sweet, leaping 28-yarder in which he outfought a defender for the ball.
It was beautiful.
It was probably the last play like that he'll have in his life.
Brown and his teammate, West tackle Ross Weaver, are from the Air Force Academy. They aren't even thinking about agents, dreaming about improving their shuttle-run scores. This is it. There will be no combine, no Mel Kiper. No free-agent camp.
"We're just out here to play one last game," Brown says, standing on the turf, helmet off, soaking it in. "We love playing football. We just wanted to play college football."
Now he's off to pilot training. And life. The game is behind him. Football is pau.
"We had a great time," he says, of the day. Of the past four years of his life.
Pilot training. It's his NFL. He's a first-round draft pick there. They don't take just anyone. The Air Force has a combine of its own.
Part of it is being scrutinized for previous serious injuries -- which means he risked his future career by playing in this game. The blue-chippers we used to see here aren't on the roster, these days, in part because of that very reason.
But Brown played.
Of course, even future Air Force officers harbor NFL dreams. He says if someone comes calling, he'd listen. That the "David Robinson rule" says if this happens he doesn't have to serve his full commitment, he could be back on the football field in two years. He's not thinking seriously about this, of course. But he dreams.
"Either way I'm going to be happy," he says.
Ever have a day of football like this last one, like today?
"It's one of the better ones," he says.
OHIO NORTHERN'S Wes Hostetler is a great football player. Not good. Great. He's an All-American and an academic All-American, just came from another all-star game (D-III against Mexico) in which he returned a kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown, an interception 75 yards for a touchdown and a punt 54 yards for a touchdown.
He just has that special something.
He is the Chad Owens of Division III.
Has he received much interest from pro scouts?
"No," he says.
No. That's it. No qualification on that, just no. One word. This could be it for him, great or not. He's hoping to get into a combine. Not THE combine -- he knows that's a long shot. But A combine. Just to get a time on a stopwatch, a few of those moves on some film. Just to show what he can do.
Just because he wants to keep playing this game.
"If I don't get the one in Indianapolis, the (NFL) invited one, I'll probably get to a smaller one," he says. He's still very much running down that dream. But this could be it. Yesterday could have been his very last game.
"I'm thinking it might be," he says. "Hoping it's not."
But, yes, it might be. He's an electric return man. But yesterday, there were no open spaces, no sudden, stunning moves. He just could not break free. Still, he retains his return man's confidence.
"The punts weren't very good," he says. It was all he could do just to get to the ball.
But his East team won, and he made a few plays, out there with all these big boys on a beautiful day.
"I just wanted to put on a show for all these people," he says. "And thought I did a pretty good job of that. That (pass) breakup over here, that tackle on special teams. Catching that first punt ... I had a lot of fun."
He'll have it with him. For a guy from D-III, yesterday's Hula Bowl crowd was "all these people." And he played in front of them, one last game. He didn't allow himself to savor it, yesterday, the last time putting on the helmet, last time with the pads. Didn't think of it that way. Because he's still dreaming. Still a player, at least for now.
But he will. He'll look back on it someday, holding that red East jersey in his hands. This will still be special, then. He'll have this day for the rest of his life.