Fans hit the airport to wish the Warriors well in the Sugar Bowl
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Dozens of University of Hawaii fans greeted the Warriors at Honolulu Airport yesterday before they left to play the University of Georgia Bulldogs in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day in New Orleans.
Some fans waited outside the airport terminal, while others met the team inside the security area.
"I'm just surprised how many people came out to support us," said UH linebacker Solomon Elimimian. "It's fun but it's time to refocus. It's about business. It's about doing something that's never been done before."
For the families of some players, this was the first time they could travel with the team.
Hawaiian Airlines employees wearing green shirts handed out leis and Mardi Gras beads to the players and other travelers as they boarded the plane.
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CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Punter Timothy Grasso signed Taryn Imano's shirt, while her mother, Shari Imano, holding Taylor, waited for her turn.
The "Warriors Express" was expected to arrive in the Big Easy at about 5:15 a.m. today carrying the University of Hawaii football team to the biggest game in school history.
A few determined Warriors fans, along with some lucky ones, seized the opportunity to get player autographs before the team left Honolulu last night.
Grant Shishido of Kaimuki waited outside the Honolulu Airport's interisland terminal where players got off team buses before checking in for their Hawaiian Airlines charter flight to New Orleans.
Shishido was hoping to get defensive lineman Siave Seti's autograph on a football card for his uncle's set of signed Hawaii cards.
But he also wanted to "say goodbye and thank some of the guys who were kind and generous this year."
The Warriors will play the University of Georgia Bulldogs in the Allstate Sugar Bowl in the Louisiana Superdome on New Year's Day. The team, coaches and support staff left yesterday on a 5:15 p.m. flight.
Before that, Hawaiian Airlines employees clad in green shirts rallied the Warriors, passing out leis and Mardi Gras beads as they boarded the plane.
"We really consider this not just an honor to be a part of this, but a real responsibility taking the team to a location and for an event that is just once in a lifetime," said Blaine Miyasato, vice president of customer service for Hawaiian Airlines. "Everybody is just really amped about this."
Hawaiian Airlines added a green "H" logo to both sides of the 767-300 wide-body aircraft and dubbed it the "Warriors Express."
For some players it was the first time they were able to take their family to a road game.
Shaela Lolotai, 21, wife of linebacker Mana Lolotai, said 11 wives and about seven children of players were traveling with the team.
"It's a nice treat for us," said Shaela Lolotai, who was bringing her 15-month-old daughter. "I'm excited for the wives."
Mana Lolotai was happy his wife can finally see how the team travels.
"This is kind of like our Christmas gift. We were so excited about the trip," he said.
While waiting to board, players listened to their iPods or ate a quick meal.
A few fans inside the airport security checkpoint used the opportunity to ask for autographs or just watched with excitement.
Pete Gallardo filled his Warriors T-shirt with player autographs.
"This happened to work out really good for us," said Gallardo, whose flight to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl was delayed about three hours.
He had just flown in from Kauai and spent the downtime having players sign the back of his T-shirt while he was wearing it. He had dozens of signatures. "I'm working on the whole team, I gotta tell you."
Quarterback Colt Brennan and a few other teammates were already on the mainland and would join the team in New Orleans. Gallardo said he would try to get Brennan's signature in New Orleans.
Gallardo, who bought Sugar Bowl tickets for four of his employees, left his wife and children at home yesterday for the game.
"We had to split hairs to leave on Christmas Day," he said, "but it's a chance of a lifetime."