Pat Bigold

The Way I See It

By Pat Bigold

Tuesday, August 24, 1999

Hammerheads had
a lot of aloha in Texas

IT took a heavy dose of defiance for the Hawaii Hammerheads to pluck the Indoor Professional Football League title from the heart of Texas last weekend.

And that defiance manifested itself in a variety of ways during the team's three-day stay in a toaster oven called Austin.

First of all, Hawaii's very presence in Austin spelled defiance. No one expected the IPFL's most jet-lagged franchise to get that far.

The script seemed written for someone else when they got there. That was obvious when players were told that they'd better bring their tuxedos to league commissioner Mike Storen's black-tie-affair.

Well, think for a moment and you know that this was asking the impossible.

"It was about as culturally insensitive as you can get," said Hawaii head coach Guy Benjamin.

Benjamin reluctantly told his players about the requirement at a practice session, and then learned that only half his team even owned white shirts.

Even fewer owned ties.

"Roy Ma'afala came up to me and suggested, 'Hey, coach, why don't we all just wear aloha attire?' "

TO that, Benjamin replied, "Beautiful."

On Friday night, as tuxedo-clad invitees filed into the Marriott function room with league bigwigs, the entire Hawaii team marched in wearing aloha shirts.

"We walked down the staircase and right into the room and everybody turned around and gasped at us," said Benjamin. "It was so beautiful seeing all the aloha shirts marching together. We defied the whole thing and stuck together."

For all that happened last weekend in Texas to the Hammerheads - the stifling 100-degree heat, the missed meals, the bus breakdown en route to practice, and the meeting room that was too small to hold everyone - Benjamin said unity on this issue meant everything.

"That was the telling moment for us," he said.

There are times when you have to defy convention. And this sure looked like the right time to do it.

It was the right time to live out the maxim, "To thine ownself be true."

THE sea of tropical colors on brown, black and white bodies invading the formal party didn't enrage the commissioner. According to Hammerheads co-owner Robert Wu, it actually moved him.

Waianae's Chris Paogofie was sweating bullets.

Paogofie had to sit at a table occupied by tuxes and wait out the league award announcements. When he learned he'd been named the IPFL's defensive player of the year, he had to go up and make a speech to those tuxes.

That, for Paogofie, was a defining moment.

"He actually did a good job," said co-owner George Hetherington of Paogofie's acceptance remarks.

After that, playing the league championship game in a sauna was a piece of cake.

There are anecdotes galore about the Hammerheads' unlikely finish in a season of extreme adversity. Most of them never made it into print or sound bites.

How many knew about Benjamin threatening to pull his players from the game if two large, NFL-style cold-air blowers comforting Texas players weren't turned off?

The Hammerheads had been given only floor fans, and he demanded equal conditions in game temperatures hovering close to 100 degrees.

To borrow an old Johnny Cash lyric, the Hammerheads survived with "gravel in the gut and spit in the eye."

They won on defiance.

Pat Bigold has covered sports for daily newspapers
in Hawaii and Massachusetts since 1978.

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