Gabriel got monkey off 'Bows' backs


POSTED: Monday, July 20, 2009

Rewind the tape in your head. Go ahead. Just close your eyes for a moment and cue up the sights and sounds of Aloha Stadium that October night in 1989.

Remember how the stands shuddered. How curlicue rolls of newspaper tossed from the upper decks fluttered across the Astroturf. And how long-suffering fans—maybe even you—howled into the Halawa night, exorcising the bitter memories of one heart-breaking loss after another.

Garrett Gabriel has an old videotape of Hawaii's historic 56-14 rout of Brigham Young ... somewhere.

“;I couldn't even guess where it is,”; he said.

Make no mistake, the quarterback who led UH to that triumphant thrashing of BYU in 1989 and a 59-28 thumping the following year has fond memories of those two huge wins. How could he not? Nearly two decades later, people still stop him to reminisce about two of the biggest victories in the history of the program.

“;People will come up and say, 'Hey, thanks for the memories' or 'You're the one who beat BYU,' “; Gabriel said. “;And I'm thinking, jeez, it's been 15, 20 years and these guys remember it so vividly.”;

Gabriel agrees that Oct. 28, 1989, the night he led UH to its first win over BYU in 15 years, was “;probably the best night of (my) career.”;

But he shares credit as deftly as he once delivered the ball to his teammates.

“;It wasn't just me,”; he said of snapping BYU's 10-game winning streak against UH. “;It was a great team effort, everybody was pretty much on the same page. The defense was great. My offensive line, those guys played great. I think I barely got touched (by the BYU defense) all night.”;

Gabriel completed 14 of his first 15 passes as UH scored on eight of nine first-half possessions. He ended up connecting on 22 of his 29 passes for 440 yards with four touchdown passes to four different receivers against the shell-shocked Cougars.

Bob Wagner, then the UH head coach, still describes it as “;the most perfect game, execution-wise, that I've ever been involved with.”;

“;In the bigger games I tended to play a little better,”; Gabriel said. “;That's all I looked forward to. I liked it that that's your moment to shine.”;

EVEN IN high school, Gabriel seemed to shine brightest when the lights went on. As a senior playing for Pac-Five, he passed for 2,169 yards and 22 touchdowns as the Wolfpack rolled to the 1985 Prep Bowl title.





        Gabriel's top five UH quarterbacks:

1. Michael Carter, 1990-93 “;A real local mentality for a guy who came from Long Beach.”;


2. Dan Robinson, 1997-99 “;To go from 0-11 to 9-4 ... he could've just folded up his tent, but he was just waiting to get a coach to show what he could do. Real down to earth.”;


3. Colt Brennan, 2005-07


“;Just for his athletic ability. He had basically everything.”;


4. Raphel Cherry, 1981-84 “;A damn good player. His scrambling ability ... just an exciting player to watch.”;


5. Alex Kaloi, 1973-76 “;He opened the door for local quarterbacks. Having a local boy (at quarterback) started a trend for us local guys to stay home and play for UH.”;




A first-team all-state pick in football and basketball, Gabriel was the most highly touted local recruit coming out of the prep ranks in 1986. Schools like Washington, Northwestern, Colorado State and Montana recruited Gabriel. San Diego State went after him hard.

Gabriel's older brother Darryl, who played college basketball in California after starring at Punahou, tried to convince him to leave Hawaii. But Gabriel had his heart set on playing for the home team.

“;(Garrett) told me, 'I want to be the guy that beats BYU,' and I couldn't argue with that,”; Darryl Gabriel said.

Recruited by UH as a drop-back passer, Gabriel had to adjust when Bob Wagner took over as head coach in 1987 and hired Paul Johnson to install an offensive scheme to beat BYU. Gabriel credits Johnson for adapting his scheme to capitalize on his strengths.

“;In (Johnson's) offense, it was always run to set up the pass,”; Gabriel recalled. “;When I came in, he passed to set up the run.”;

Wagner and Johnson saw that while Gabriel didn't have a cannon for an arm, he had good size at 6-foot-2, and “;he was very accurate and he could read coverage,”; Wagner said.

By 1989, Gabriel had matured into a capable triggerman for the spread option attack. The 'Bows put up 60 points or more three times en route to a 5-2 record entering the BYU game.

But in the previous game the offense sputtered against Colorado State, and the junior QB endured almost as much heat as a short-lived, marshmallow-headed mascot that UH fans booed off the field later that season. Gabriel took all the verbal hits without lashing out, but his family saw what kind of abuse he endured when the media and fickle fans assigned much of the blame for offensive miscues to him.

“;It was either be successful, or put your head between your legs and get out of town,”; Darryl Gabriel said. “;I really believe he felt that kind of pressure.”;

The Cougars, ranked 18th in both national polls, came into the game with a 5-1 record and were undefeated in the WAC. Quarterback Ty Detmer led the nation in individual total offense and passing efficiency.

Leading up to the game, Gabriel, who had thrown two interceptions and lost two fumbles at Fort Collins, had to block out some sharp criticism from media and fans.

“;When you're being blamed for a loss, it hurts,”; Gabriel admitted. “;I used to take a lot of it personally. When you're quarterback, you get a lot of the credit, but you also take a lot of the blame.”;

Fired up by the sniping from armchair quarterbacks, the normally easygoing Gabriel recalls being uncharacteristically intense and focused in practice that week. Come game time, Gabriel ran the offense flawlessly, easily outdueling Detmer.

AT THE TIME, broadcast play-by-play man Jim Leahey proclaimed Hawaii's first win over Brigham Young since 1974 “;the greatest thing since statehood.”;

“;I consider it the greatest win in the history of the program,”; Leahey said. “;It was a catharsis.”;

And at a time when there was no such thing as a hometown Hawaii Bowl among the 18 bowl games, Wagner maintains that the win was crucial to UH securing an invitation to the Aloha Bowl, the program's first NCAA-sanctioned bowl berth.

“;It was a huge milestone,”; Wagner said. “;BYU was the standard in our league, and once we beat them—and the way we beat them—it made a huge difference.”;

As for the bowl game itself, uh, let's fast-forward right past Michigan State bullying the 'Bows, 33-13, shall we? And as long as we're at it, keep the tape rolling past the two straight losses to open the up-and-down 1990 season.

If anything, the BYU rematch seemed even more daunting for a UH team that had struggled to a 6-5 record. BYU, ranked fourth in the nation, came in at 10-1, including a win over Miami (Fla.).

The confident Cougars already had clinched the WAC title and a Holiday Bowl berth. Detmer accepted the Heisman in Waikiki on national TV hours before the game.

Johnson still felt the Cougars couldn't keep up with Hawaii's fleet-footed backs and receivers, but Gabriel admits to worrying about how motivated BYU would be to exact revenge.

“;I was sitting there thinking, 'Yeah, but they're coming in pissed off!' “; Gabriel said, laughing.

Gabriel's fears proved to be unfounded. On UH's first offensive possession, he led an 80-yard scoring drive, hitting slotback Dane McArthur over the middle—“;the most perfect pass I ever threw”; according to Gabriel—for a 29-yard touchdown to start the offensive fireworks.

Gabriel outplayed Detmer again, and his three-touchdown, 359-yard senior night performance earned him CNN Player of the Week honors.

And if the '89 win still had a special place in the hearts and minds of Hawaii fans, the 1990 victory was an even bigger upset on the national scene. At the time, Cougars coach LaVell Edwards mournfully called it “;a very bitter pill (to swallow), a very tough loss.”;

AFTER GRADUATING in 1990, Gabriel went on to earn a master's degree in educational counseling and recently joined the DOE as a counselor.

He and his wife, Dori, have three sons, Garrison, 12, Dillon, 8, and Roman, 3. Gabriel, who coached boys basketball at Maryknoll and Radford and assisted his brother Darryl at Saint Louis, is content these days to coach his older two boys' basketball and flag football teams.

Gabriel did have to dig up that old tape of the first BYU game to show his curious sons after the fathers of their teammates kept talking up Gabriel's glory days.

“;At first, (Garrison and Dillon) would look at me like, what are they talking about?”; said Gabriel.

Nowadays, it's the old quarterback who sometimes has to settle his boys down when they're tossing the ball around. (That's right, the guy who beat BYU is now 40 years old.)

“;They get excited, but I have to tell 'em, 'Guys, I'm a little over the hill now,' “; said Gabriel, laughing.

He sometimes wonders what kind of yardage he could have amassed in a run-and-shoot system.

“;Put me in a June Jones offense, and I'd put up some numbers,”; he said.

But Gabriel seems at peace with his place in the pantheon of UH gridiron greats past and present.

“;I've had a pretty good life athletically,”; Gabriel said. “;I got to play in big games and play in front of a lot of people. I had fun, and I rarely lost. I can't complain.”;


Chance Gusukuma writes occasionally for the Star-Bulletin. Tomorrow we unveil No. 10.