with excitement as
A 35,000-range crowd
will fill Aloha Stadium
tonight for UH football
June Jones' contract settled but not signed. Cal Lee and FieldTurf in the house. Tim Chang's big incomplete. Samson and Hercules ... and Uriah Moenoa's Achilles.
Now, tonight, finally ... a football game.
The sideshows give way to the main event at 6:05 p.m. at Aloha Stadium as the University of Hawaii football team opens a highly anticipated season with a game against Appalachian State.
"We've got a couple of little things to take care of, but I think we're ready," Jones, the UH coach, said Thursday. "By kickoff all the adrenaline will be pumping, and we'll be ready."
Reporters who cover the Western Athletic Conference favor the Warriors to win the league championship, and the truly faithful believe UH can find a place in the Top 25 again this year -- and stay there longer than the two weeks of last season when Hawaii went 10-4.
Drowning in hype and brimming with hope, a crowd expected to be in the 35,000 range and a large statewide Pay-Per-View television audience finally find out tonight if UH's vaunted defense, revamped offensive line and a rawboned backup quarterback from Orange County, Calif., named Jason Whieldon can get the Warriors off to a good start.
Matt Duarte, of Kailua, considers himself a typical UH fan. He and his wife, Gloria, and son Xavier went to every home game last year, and they'll brave the crowd tonight. He loves the run-and-shoot and doesn't mind that Jones now has a big contract worth $800,016 a year while schoolteachers like himself struggle along.
"What can I say? I wish I got paid as much as a coach. Of course, I think some of these guys are getting paid way too much. But we fans, by going to the game, we're perpetuating some of the raise."
Beverly Keever isn't a football fan, but she became a part of the UH football story when she requested disclosure of Jones' first contract several years ago. The UH journalism professor won a victory of sorts earlier this month when the university released Jones' contract, to the chagrin of the coach and some of his supporters. She represents those in Hawaii who will go about their business without caring about what the Warriors do tonight.
"I suppose everyone is hoping that June Jones will have a very strong winning season, or people will be disappointed -- not just with losses, but because of his salary," Keever said.
FieldTurf, a new artificial surface that players say is easier on their bodies, was also a controversial offseason topic. Installing the surface cost the state $800,000 and was done at the urging of the NFL, which puts on the Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium. Some said the existing AstroTurf was fine, but not Jones and UH players like Kenny Patton and Chad Owens, who said the old turf got them injured.
Longtime Saint Louis School football coach Cal Lee -- the winningest high school coach in state history -- finally joined the UH staff in July, something observers felt was his destiny for more than a decade.
Lee will coach the linebackers; he adds even more charisma to a staff that includes offensive line assistant Mike Cavanaugh. Cavanaugh's drill-sergeant intensity was at full bloom this month as he taught offensive linemen like Hercules and Samson Satele the ways of protecting the quarterback. And Moenoa, one of UH's best offensive linemen, is out tonight with an injury to his right Achilles' tendon, thrusting career backup Phil Kauffman into the lineup.
No one could protect Chang, though, from the Ghost of Christmas Past. He's suspended from tonight's game for playing in the Hawaii Bowl last Dec. 25 while academically ineligible. The $10,000 Heisman Trophy campaign for the star quarterback took a serious hit.
Don Murphy, president of Na Koa, the UH football booster club, is glad he can finally watch some Warrior football tonight.
"I'm very excited and lots of other people are," Murphy said. "You hear the talk about it on the streets, in the grocery stores. Everybody's, 'Hey, it's this weekend!'
"It's terrific. The community's really up for it. It's great for business," said the proprietor of Murphy's Bar & Grill. "There's been a lot of attention on the team for all kinds of reason, some good, some controversial."
Murphy said 110 people have reserved spots on the free buses he provides from his restaurant to the stadium and back.
"In previous years we've averaged 30 or 40," he said. "I guess the bus strike helps."
Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore brought his team 5,000 miles to play the Warriors. He said he could sense the excitement in the air in Waikiki.
"Everybody's been really nice to us," he said, "but I think the fans are quietly licking their chops. I hope June Jones will be nice to us, too."