UH fans must stand, be counted
Consider tonight a challenge, Hawaii football fans.
Not just for your team - although if the Warriors do not arrive at this game fully prepared to play, they will leave Aloha Stadium 0-2 and red-faced.
For you, the fans, this is an opportunity to shed the long-standing label of fickle bandwagon jumpers. If what UH officials are saying is correct, many of you have accepted the challenge and will show up for a team that lost 56-10 last week.
Season ticket sales are up for the second consecutive season, and walk-up purchases for this game have been crisp, even though it is against a no-name school from the lower regions of Division I. Latest estimates have us looking at around 35,000 tonight, maybe more.
Now, tickets-distributed numbers are tricky. You have to figure in a certain number of giveaways, as well as corporate purchases of seats that won't be filled except by guys sneaking down for a closer view.
Pay-per-view sales are up too, according to UH numbers. So some ticket holders may watch this one from their living room, a friend's garage, or a sports bar since Weber State isn't quite USC. That deficit, however, could be made up by a solid contingent of local folks who want to see their kin playing for the visitors.
Perhaps there's been a turning point. Maybe Hawaii fans don't need a big-name foe at the Rust Palace anymore. They didn't in 2000, when they nearly filled the joint with Portland State playing the part of the designated loser (that forgot to lose).
Rock bottom came in 2005, when even Fresno State drew only 23,157. The Chang Gang had just completed its five-year run, and with premium seat donations skyrocketing, lots of folks said 'nuff already.
Funny thing, the new quarterback was a skinny sophomore learning the playbook. Colt Brennan eventually did more than any other individual to bring back the fans.
As for keeping them, some indicators point to a newfound loyalty.
Greg McMackin's personality has a lot to do with it. His predecessor, June Jones, coached UH to unprecedented heights, but he did it his way - a manner that didn't always sit well with many old-school fans. Changing the team nickname, bickering over background music, a couple of postgame brawls ... all this and more added up to polarization rivaling a visit to Antarctica.
So not all will agree when I say Jones' nine years were good for UH football. Jones set a higher standard, and McMackin is intent on building upon it. The fans like him, believe in him.
The respect is mutual.
"I think they're realistic," McMackin said. "This isn't an easy schedule and Hawaii fans are more educated than anywhere I've been. I think they're smart. They knew we weren't going to go 14-0."
Tonight isn't likely the start to 13-1, but Hawaii should win handily - unless the Warriors turn it over six times again. Do that, and they lose.
And that would leave plenty of seats on a sad, empty bandwagon.