A man ambled in wearing an old and worn green "Beat BYU" T-shirt, and the coach knew he was home.
Tomey enjoys warm
return to Hawaii
All the old faces were there. Some a little older now. A few, like the coach, looked exactly the same.
Almost all of them were beaming and eager. It was a big day. When Les Keiter told them to stand in tribute, they did. When it came time for questions, they were ready.
The coach stood up there and they sent aloha his way. Dick Tomey was making his heroic return to the Honolulu Quarterback Club.
Love, laughter and memories washed over him. "You could feel the warmth," he said later.
It was just like old times.
They asked him about his opinions and hopes and plans, and he obliged them. But mostly, they wanted to remember.
But now, thanks to the passage of time, all the memories were good ones, warm and joyful ones. The laughter flowed, in and out, back and forth across the room like the tide. People grinned wide. Smiled hard. Tilted their heads back with abandon.
A man in the back of the room stood up. "Coach, I don't know if you remember ..."
"I remember you," Tomey said. "You stood right there every week. 'On third down ... Coach, on third down, what was your thinking?'"
And everyone laughed and smiled more.
But the man had a question. There was a flea-flicker or a backward pass, or some trick play where Blane Gaison had thrown a pass, but he just couldn't see the ball land, in his mind. Was it a touchdown?
"We completed that pass," Tomey said. "Jeff Cabral caught it."
"I don't know if anyone remembers," the man said, apologetically.
"Jeff Cabral remembers," the coach said. And then they all did, too.
Keiter talked about his days as the host of the "Dick Tomey Show." Rich Miano told a story in which the punch line was that the coach had called him a wimp. Only he didn't say "wimp."
"Don't you put that on TV," he said.
The crowd roared.
Tomey spotted Earl Galdeira, a longtime local official. The two paid their respects from across the room, each bursting at seeing the other again. And then the coach just couldn't help himself. "Earl, I really wish you would have given us that ball against Nebraska, Earl!" And everyone in the room laughed at the joke and remembered the magical night the Rainbows had the mighty Cornhuskers on the ropes.
It was like that in the old days. That was Tomey's gift. Every moment was so big, so dramatic then -- or at least that's how it seemed now in retrospect. Every play was a chance for Hawaii to take a greater stage. The Rainbows stared Goliath right in the eye. And the people of Hawaii could believe that this time, this time, their boys would pull it off.
This day, they felt it again.
There were no grillings this day, no second-guessing. He was past that. He had crossed over, in a way. This was a celebration. Dick Tomey was back. Dick Tomey was home. Dick Tomey was theirs now, forever.
And on the first day in his new life as a UH hero, the coach had no losses. Only wins.
Kalani Simpson's column runs Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org