Wonder-ful Wise


POSTED: Friday, June 26, 2009

You haven't accomplished anything until you are tagged with a cool nickname.

And the Roaring '20s had the coolest nicknames. While the Sultan of Swat ruled baseball and the Manassa Mauler was the baddest man on the planet, The Four Horsemen were the talk of football.

Though Hawaii had no Babe Ruth or Jack Dempsey, it had its very own version of the famous Notre Dame backfield.

The Four Horsemen of Manoa earned their own cool nickname, the “;Wonder Teams.”; Before coach Otto “;Proc”; Klum brought William “;Doggie”; Wise, Theodore “;Pump”; Searle, Eddie Fernandez and John D. Morse to Manoa, UH football was a sideshow. It began play in 1909 but lived in the shadow of prep football, as it would for decades after the Horsemen, but at least it was in the game. Back-to-back undefeated seasons will do that for you.

At the heart of those teams was William Wise, whose arrival in Manoa was a step down. Wise had just finished leading McKinley to an Interscholastic League of Honolulu championship in front of packed crowds. The Rainbows struggled to draw anyone.

Like most back then, Wise played both ways. He excelled on each side of the football. When he died in 1964, 40 years after showing off his skills, columnists for both Honolulu newspapers credited Wise with being the best passer who had ever stepped onto the island, including visiting Hula Bowl slingers Fran Tarkenton and Paul Hornung. But could he run? A four-touchdown game against Colorado State should answer that question, the only time that feat would be accomplished until Larry Arnold did it in 1968.

Some said he was the greatest defensive player as well.

Wise did many of the same things in Manoa he had at McKinley, but things clicked when he hooked up with Johnny Morse and the other Horsemen. Decades before the forward pass became a true threat, Wise and Morse showed what was possible with the new toy. Although the Rainbows won under Klum by running the ball and playing defense, the Manoa Fox's entire offensive game plan was designed to give Wise a clear shot at hitting a streaking Morse for a long gain. More often than not, it worked to give the 'Bows and their stifling defense the only score they would need.

And if anything was a sure thing, it was that defense. Wise often shut down his side of the field, closing off both the run and the pass. The team went two years without allowing a touchdown and outscored its opponents 606-29.

For all of the attention, the Horsemen didn't really know where they stood in the grand scheme of things. Sure, they shut out Colorado at home to close out the 1924 season and beat Hawaii's National Guard team 86-0. They even made their first road trip and beat a bad Occidental team 13-0 when Wise returned an interception 75 yards to the house in front of 5,000 fans.

Then Washington State came to town.

The Cougars were no world beaters, sitting at 3-3-1, but they caught the Rainbows' attention when they upset Southern California 17-12 before boarding a ship to Hawaii. Once they landed in paradise, they had their way with the Town Team, which was renamed the Honolulu All-Stars for the contest, 24-7. Hawaii had beaten the townies 14-6 a month earlier but had given up their first score of the year on the final drive and were feeling vulnerable.

No need. The Cougars moved the ball, but Wise got the big play he needed when he hit Morse on the hands from 60 yards away for a 20-11 win. The Horsemen moved on to make Hawaii a better place and the Rainbows never tasted the same success for another decade, but they were legit. And they earned a nickname to carry into history.


Jerry Campany is a Star-Bulletin sportswriter. We reveal five more UH greats tomorrow.