WHAT a Merry Christmas. Talk about gift-giving all around as the football Rainbows completed a feel-good season that will go down in University of Hawaii history.
A fitting end to
Hawaiis dream season
More than just worst to first. It culminated with a 23-17 postseason triumph over Oregon State in the Oahu Bowl.
It was touching to see giant linemen such as Kaulana Noa, Adrian Klemm and Tony Tuioti, laughing, crying and congratulating each other on the field after the game.
"This is the best gift I could possibly get," said Tuioti. "And it was a gift from us, the 'Bows, to the people of Hawaii."
And one for departing Greg McMackin, architect of a defense that held the Pac-10's most explosive offense to just two touchdowns.
"Tonight was our Christmas present to him," said Tuioti, speaking on behalf of his defensive teammates who came up with six sacks.
Quite a going-away gift, too, for McMackin, lured by Texas Tech to be its defensive coordinator.
HEAD coach June Jones, who masterminded the amazing turnaround for the UH football program, also was presented with a fairly generous Christmas incentive bonus for winning a bowl game.
A remarkable season, a season to remember for a Rainbow team that went 0-12 last year to finish 9-4.
"You can't describe what we've been through and have our dreams come true," said Noa. "What a way to go out."
Jones deserves all the bonus incentives he can get. Who would have thought -- even in their wildest dreams -- that the Rainbows could achieve what they did this season, which truly is the No. 1 sports story of the year in Hawaii.
It's hard to imagine what Jones can do for an encore next year after his opening act.
For now, though, let's savor all the excitement, satisfaction and thrills that the 1999 season provided for Rainbow fans, who had hoped for so little and got so much.
The Christmas doubleheader has been billed as "The Only NCAA Football Game With a Sequel."
And the come-and-go turnstile crowd of 40,974 surely would agree that the sequel was definitely better than the original.
Wake Forest's 23-3 victory over Arizona State in the opening Aloha Bowl lacked the attendance, the buzz and the drama that followed in the Oahu Bowl game between the 'Bows and the Beavers.
THIS was a match-up, not only of two former NFL coaches -- Jones and Oregon State's Dennis Erickson. It was also a game between two long-suffering programs that enjoyed turnaround seasons.
Two Cinderellas at the ball and the glass slipper could fit either one of them.
In the end, the Rainbows -- college football's real Cinderellas in 1999 -- had prevailed.
One can only hope that there can be another sequel -- call it Cinderella II -- next year for Hawaii.
With Noa, Klemm, Dustin Owen and Andy Phillips gone from the offensive line, along with Tuioti, quarterback Dan Robinson, wideout Dwight Carter and defensive standouts Jeff Ulbrich, Matt Paul, Quincy LeJay and Yaphet Warren, the Rainbows will definitely need to reload quickly.
"I hate to leave," said Carter, "but at least I went out with a bowl victory and a conference championship. You can't hope for anything better than that."
Jones will have to be called upon to come up with yet another miracle to come anywhere near what he accomplished this year.
Who's to say, he can't, after what we've just seen.