Saturday, January 20, 2001
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Posted on: Saturday, January 20, 2001

Hula Bowl a celebration of college football's best

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

WAILUKU, Maui — Somewhere in time, all-star college football games became auditions instead of shows.

Hawaii’s James Fenderson is among the unheralded players gearing up for today’s Hula Bowl.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

The competitors don’t play, they take tests. The games have become one more laboratory from which to evaluate a player’s pro potential.

Still, for what the Hula Bowl has endured through the years — the change in venue, the hoot over title sponsorship — it is one game that has remained true to its original intent: To raise money for charities and, most of all, to entertain.

While hundreds of scouts and coaches gather in Mobile, Ala., to rate futures in the Senior Bowl, the Hula Bowl counters with a diverse product that is rich in history.

The Hula Bowl is where O.J. Simpson ran to glory instead of from his past; it is where Deion Sanders’ skills were written in neon.

Today, it is where the unheralded — that is, everyone except All-American quarterback Drew Brees of Purdue — can take their place under the bright Maui sun.

"I cherish this opportunity to play in this bowl," Notre Dame tight end Dan O’Leary said. "Not too many people get a chance to come to Hawaii and play football."

Executive officer Lenny Klompus has kept the game accessible. The practices are open to the public, and players and fans easily mingle. If a fan can’t attend practice, the players are available for daily autograph sessions across the island.

For football prospects, the time between the end of the season and the rest of their lives, what British royalty refer to as the "gap year," can be a crisis in identity. Are they former college players or future pros?

But unlike the Senior Bowl, which is controlled by the National Football League, the Hula Bowl is designed to be an extension of the college season. The college coaches association governs the game, giving the Hula Bowl the feel of a celebration.

That is why the three military academies, whose players won’t be eligible for the pros for several years, are represented in the game.

That is why the University of Hawaii has the most participants.

And it is why there are players from Texas A&M-Kingsville and Texas A&M-Commerce, Grove College and Lone Grove, Okla.

"This is a fun game," UH defensive back Dee Miller said.

To be sure, there also is talent. Until Virginia Tech’s Michael Vick declared for the NFL draft, Brees was considered the top available quarterback in the country.

Louisville wide receiver Arnold Jackson has more career catches than any other player in NCAA Division I-A history. Florida A&M’s Jacquay Nunnally is the Division I-AA career leader in receptions.

R.J. Bowers of Grove City is college football’s career leading rusher with 7,353 yards. Sacramento State’s Charles Roberts ran for 6,533 career yards.

The sidelines are filled with marquee coaches, such as Florida State’s Bobby Bowden and Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer.

"I’m glad to be here," Brees said.

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