Botelho was too early for the flying circus


POSTED: Thursday, June 18, 2009

Maybe Don Botelho needed a time machine.

Those who saw him play for Roosevelt and the University of Hawaii recall a supreme athlete, nimble of foot and mind. But his greatest weapon was rarely used—a strong, accurate arm. In the 1950s, the forward pass remained a novelty, not something you build a gameplan around.

“;He was more throwing if I remember,”; said Jimmy Asato, who later coached with him. “;But no one really threw then.”;

Botelho said he was ready to let loose when he got the starting quarterback's job. “;I liked to throw the ball. But we (as a team) didn't.”;

Well, the Rainbows did toss it at least once his senior year, with a memorable result that's kept Botelho in the record book for 52 years. His 95-yard scoring pass play to Colin Chock remains the longest in school history, longer than anything authored by Ralph Cherry, Timmy Chang or Colt Brennan.

BOTELHO, TWO years after a Coast Guard stint in Greece, was among the 28 Rainbows arriving in Lincoln, Neb., in 1955 with no one expecting Hawaii to stand up to the Huskers. But UH dominated, and won 6-0, in the school's biggest upset win ever.

“;I didn't start that game, but quarterbacks kept getting hurt, Fred Nagata, Ed Kawawaki,”; Botelho said. “;So I end up in the game at halfback, a sophomore.”;

That meant defense, too. And Botelho was one of two back men as the Rainbows crowded the line with nine. “;They ran the option and threw maybe three passes at the most.”;

That kind of thing stuck with a smart young guy like Don Botelho (nicknamed “;Spud,”; at first only to his close friends, but others can't resist). When he started coaching, he knew eschewing the pass could be fatal. His quarterbacks wouldn't have to deal with the same disdain for the aerial game that he endured as a player.

He followed Don Coryell.

“;When you talk about creativity, everything you can think of was already thought of by someone else,”; Botelho said.

“;You don't have to be 50-50. It's having the capability of doing both, so no one can cheat on you,”; he learned. That philosophy—plus a whole lot of talented players and organizational skill—helped him turn doormat conglomerate Pac-Five into a two-time Prep Bowl winner.

“;The '82 team was smashmouth, with Joe (Onosai) and Donny (Maa). But we could throw when we wanted to. With Garrett Gabriel and George Smith, one of the finest receivers I've ever seen (in 1985), you throw the ball. But we had the capability of running.”;

NOW HE runs the Interscholastic League of Honolulu. He spent his 77th birthday Saturday working with the state's athletic directors on painful program cuts.

Fun way to celebrate.

“;Hah! Six years ago on my birthday I had a triple-bypass.”;

He coached 42 years. “;The only reason I'm not still coaching is that I was asked to do this job.”;

What's bigger? Nebraska or the Prep Bowls?

“;To me, coaching and playing every game was special. I can't look at any as standing out above the rest.

“;I've had my 15 minutes.”;

Yes, but that time machine is intriguing. What could a young Don Botelho have done quarterbacking June Jones' offense?


Dave Reardon is the Star-Bulletin's sports columnist. We reveal five more UH football greats tomorrow.