Still 'Mento' after all these years


POSTED: Saturday, June 27, 2009

Using a black Sharpie, David Maeva wrote “;Jimmy”; on the white towel that hung from his hip pad, penning his own football future.

It was Sept. 3, 1988, at Aloha Stadium. The season opener against ninth-ranked Iowa was Maeva's first game as a University of Hawaii starter. But the chicken skin he felt as the band played “;Hawaii Five-0,”; quickly dissolved, turning him into a Rainbow running around like a chicken without a head. Scared, confused and lost at times, Maeva was left embarrassed by his play in the first half.

“;I was sitting and crying in front of my locker,”; Maeva recalled. “;I was all sick, just staring at the 'Jimmy' I wrote on my towel.”;

“;Jimmy”; was James Ferrigno, Maeva's Kamehameha Schools classmate who died in a car crash less than a month before the Hawkeyes flew into town.

“;Jimmy would expect more from me,”; Maeva said. “;I promised myself right then and there I'd never play like a wimp again. And I never did, for Jimmy.”;

Seventeen tackles later, the Rainbows upset Iowa, 27-24.

David was Goliath that season, earning a place on the All-Western Athletic Conference first team as a sophomore linebacker.

Maeva and safety Mike Tresler, both manini men by Division I football standards, played like the alter egos they created for themselves. “;Mento”; Maeva and “;Psycho”; Tresler were unforgettable personas.

“;Never about reality, but all about mentality,”; Maeva said. “;Mike taught me that. Our attitude was play until we break.”;

All things considered and mainly because the team needed him there, Maeva played out of position. A self-proclaimed misfit built like a safety at 200 pounds, Maeva sometimes, understandably, was humbled and crumbled by 300-pound offensive linemen and 245-pound fullbacks.

“;Game got every ounce of me,”; Maeva said. “;Heart kept getting me off the ground.”;

Maeva was recruited by Dick Tomey, but played under Tomey's successor, Bob Wagner. George Lumpkin, who has been affiliated with UH for more than three decades, was his position coach.

“;I had old-school Lumpkin yelling, more yelling and lots of detail,”; Maeva said. “;I needed that.”;

As a high school hurdler, his state records still stand, barely. Bryan Clay posted better times. But the marks of the future Olympic decathlon gold medalist from Castle were ruled to be wind-aided, and are not recognized as state records.

“;Yeah, baby, even the best athlete in the world nevah break 'em,”; Maeva said. “;Whew!”;

He morphed from a track and field guy who played football into a football player who used to run track. The self-styled “;Kailua kid”; wanted “;Hawaii”; across his chest, his family name on his shoulders and a rainbow stripe down his pant legs.

“;I wanted to be Alvis (Satele), I wanted to be (David) Toloumu, I wanted to make local people proud,”; said Maeva, whose one-time promise never to wimp out again had meaning, “;Play ugly, win ugly, get all 'Mento.' Whatever it takes.”;

There were big games and big plays during Maeva's career, such as his interception to ice a 32-30 win at San Diego State in 1988.

“;Personally, that game meant the most to me,”; Maeva said. “;My dad's nine brothers and sisters were in attendance and I had to represent.”;

Picking the game that stood out most while he was a Rainbow was easy.

“;BYU 1989, No. 18 in the country and No. 1 on the most-hated list,”; Maeva said.

To many, the 'Bows' 56-14 domination of the Cougars remains as the biggest win in the program's history.

“;Stadium was rocking, confetti littered the field, fans, entire families, had tears in their eyes,”; Maeva said. “;Wasn't just me, everybody got 'Mento.'”;

Everybody also noticed the win ended a losing streak to the blue and white that covered 14 years. No more dropped passes that should have been touchdowns. No more lost fumbles in the end zone. Instead, a rivalry was recognized.

BYU was sent packing, and Hawaii's win helped secure its first-ever invitation to a sanctioned postseason game—the Jeep Eagle Aloha Bowl, against 22nd-ranked Michigan State.

By the time the Spartans checked in for a week-long stay in Waikiki, Maeva recalled, all the hype claiming the “;other”; team in green would win in a runaway on Christmas Day left a taste worse than fruitcake.

“;So I snapped at the banquet,”; Maeva said.

“;Lets Go 'Bows”; chants by Rainbow cheerleaders were drowned out by the Big Ten rivals shouting “;M-S-U, M-S-U”;. In all his exuberance, Maeva jumped onto a table and performed a middle-finger-flicking. F-bomb-dropping Samoan slap dance.

It didn't go over well.

“;Drove Wags crazy,”; Maeva said, laughing. “;I was getting crazy, Michigan State got crazy, only regret of my career. Not for doing it, but because my teammates didn't join me.”;

Seems Santa Claus found out who was naughty and who was nice at the banquet. The Spartans rolled the Rainbows 33-13, with Blake Ezor rushing for 179 yards and three touchdowns.

To this day, Maeva says, he's never watched a video of that game.

In 1994, out of nowhere, four years after he wore the green and white for the last time, Maeva was drafted in the fourth round by Las Vegas of the Canadian Football League.

The coach who picked him, Jeff Reinebold, would eventually become an assistant coach at UH. The first player Maeva met when he checked in was Blake Ezor. The first words out of Ezor's mouth, Maeva remembered, “;You're the mental guy that did the crazy dance, aren't you?”;

“;I kept telling him 'Mento,' not mental,”; Maeva said. “;He kept saying, 'Yeah, that's what I said, mental.' “;

Also spending time with Vancouver and Winnipeg, Maeva played four seasons in the CFL before returning home.

He's now daddy to daughter Tavi, 16, and son Dayne, 7. He's been a schoolteacher and a longshoreman and coached high school football at Kaiser.

He is now a counselor at the Oahu Correctional Youth Facility at Olomana.

These days, Maeva puts all his efforts into working with kids. Some of them, he said, act “;Mento.”;

“;Payback, I guess,”; Maeva said.

Would Jimmy be proud?

“;I think so, I hope so.”;


Robert Kekaula is sports director at KITV. We unveil five more UH greats tomorrow.