Talk Story


Tuesday, November 20, 2001

Monday morning
reflections of a
Warrior football fan

WHO were those guys? My myopic vision of college football doesn't focus on the Mid-America Conference. I pay scant attention when Marshall's Thundering Herd or Western Michigan's Broncos show up on a late-season telecast. Otherwise, the MAC is totally out of sight and mind.

But the MAC's Miami of Ohio certainly got my attention Saturday night. Their 52-51 shootout with the University of Hawaii Warriors put our own Western Athletic Conference in perspective.

Fans expected a tough game from nationally-ranked Fresno State, but from a fly-over school that plays in a conference with the likes of Akron, Toledo, Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Eastern, Western and Central Michigan, Northern Illinois and Kent State ...?

We discovered they play a tough, exciting brand of football in the MAC -- at least Miami does. Right up until Justin Ayat's last-second field goal capped a Hawaii win, the UH-Miami game ranked with the best I've seen at Aloha Stadium in more than a decade.

Miami of Ohio calls itself the "Cradle of Coaches." Eight national football coaches of the year came from the school, including Woody Hayes, Ara Parseghian and Bo Schembechler, as did Weeb Ewbank of the Jets and Colts, Walter Alston of the Dodgers and Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns. Hawaii coach June Jones must have been ready for a well-coached opponent, if not for the 103 points and 1,261 yards the two teams ran up.

For a while I thought the announcer was calling Miami the "Red Hots." Saturday night that name was more apt than their real one, the RedHawks. Miami's quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, kept the ball on offense for 40 out of 60 minutes and completed 40 of 53 passes for 452 yards and three touchdowns to go with his one rushing score. That's hot.

Meanwhile, Hawaii's Nick Rolovich broke the school record with seven touchdown passes on 30 completions for 500 yards. Three of his scoring strikes, including one for 78 yards and another for 60, went to Ashlie Lelie, one of the nation's top receivers.

Jones should harvest another good crop of recruits after this year's winning season. Last year's starting quarterback, Tim Chang, has at least two -- possibly three -- years of eligibility remaining and Hawaii fans can expect lots more football excitement.

A better team deserves better fans. Although 33,000 tickets were sold, only about 29,000 showed up on Saturday to see Hawaii extend its record to 7 wins and 3 losses. Unbelievably, a smattering of fans headed for the parking lots with less than two minutes to go and the game still undecided.

Jones has held up his end of the bargain and built a football program that can compete with any team in the country. Now we need to do our part.

Of course, from a fan's point of view, some loose ends still need attention. There's the helmet thing, for one. The ho-hum graphic in the center of the field and the corny inflatable helmet the players run out of before the start of the game don't match the player's classy headgear.

On the other hand, Warrior mascot Vili Fehoko brings Polynesian Cultural Center showmanship and authenticity to a job formerly left to a foam-rubber muscle suit. He gets to run around with a spear while the rest of us aren't even trusted to have caps on our bottles of spring water.

Then there's the blatant commercialism. Like blitzing linebackers, advertising messages assault fans, pitching everything from cars to ox-tail soup. When there's a break in the action, public service announcements preach at us. Should paying fans have to put up with this din?

Bigger schools -- the Notre Dames, Nebraskas, Washingtons, etc. -- limit advertising to a tasteful minimum. Then again, a sideline seat at one of their usually sold-out games goes for double UH's $19 ticket price or more. Capacity crowds at 50,000-seat Aloha Stadium would make all the difference, too.

With more dollars at the turnstiles, the athletic department could tone it down, be more selective.

The show's certainly worth the ticket. Jones has built a program in which the state can take pride and set a standard of excellence that UH can expand to academics, facilities and other areas.

John Flanagan is the Star-Bulletin's contributing editor.
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