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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, November 7, 2004

You'll miss him when he's done

 •  15,303 ... and counting

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

In Hawai'i, it has been said, directions often include landmarks that no longer exist.

The strip mall is where the old Gem's store used to stand. The Mapunapuna service station is near where Gibson's had its Sky Slide. The Chinese restaurant is next to where Chunky's served thick-cut fries, across the street from the old Termite Palace.

Former NCAA career passing yardage leader Ty Detmer of Brigham Young University won the Heisman Trophy in 1990.

Advertiser library photo • May 5, 2004

And in the years from now, while debating about the best of the best in football, the reference point will be the University of Hawai'i's Tim Chang, who last night surpassed Ty Detmer's NCAA career passing yardage record of 15,031.

By then, there will be fond memories of Chang's quick pass release, his mastery of the wondrous run-and-shoot offense, his standing as the most prolific quarterback to ever play college football.

At that time, Chang likely will receive the adoration that eluded him when he played.

"I think when he's gone," UH coach June Jones said, "everybody is going to really, really miss him. He is better than what people give him credit for. I know that."

Chang, it can be argued, is better appreciated away than at home. He has a strong following in Asian communities across the Mainland. The Associated Press automatically forwards any story mentioning his name to publications targeting Asian American readers. He has been featured in the country's most-read newspapers and magazines — the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Washington Post columnist Norman Chad hitch-hiked on the "Chang for Heisman" bandwagon.

But at home, the Island Son has been treated like pop culture's stepchild. It is puzzling because his bloodlines — Asian, Caucasian, Polynesian and Hispanic — could form a pie chart of Hawai'i's population.

He is friendly, cordial and humble. "He's a good person," Jones said.

His NCAA record, Chang has insisted, is "a team record. I can't block for myself and I can't throw the ball to myself."

Yet, where is the aloha? In last year's home game against Alabama, he slinked to the sideline to a chorus of boos after struggling with his passing accuracy. When he appeared dazed after a knockdown, some cheered.

"It hurt, because he's my teammate," offensive lineman Uriah Moenoa said. "He had a few bad throws, and he got booed. I thought that was out of line. I know how much he loves Hawai'i and how he wanted to come here and represent the local people. We knew (the booing) had to hurt him. But he never grumbled and he never complained. I looked at him (on the sideline), and he was rooting for (his replacement). That showed his character. How many people would do that after the way he was treated?"

Jones, a former quarterback, said criticism comes with the position. UH's most successful quarterbacks — Garrett Gabriel, who directed two routs of Brigham Young University, and Michael Carter, who led the Warriors to their most successful season (11-2 in 1992) — often were mistreated by fans.

Even Nick Rolovich, beloved as much for an 8-1 record in 2001 as for being Chang's replacement, was not embraced warmly at first. In his first season after transferring from a junior college in 2000, "Nick was booed," Jones said. "People forget that."

Hawai'i has had love affairs with idols, most famously with singer Jasmine Trias. But that was a white-hot spring romance.

Chang is a fifth-year senior and, as in most long-term relationships, his faults have been exposed over time. The good moments have been tempered by the interceptions, the comparisons to selective accomplishments of past quarterbacks and the perception that Chang is not durable.

In fact, Jones said, "Timmy is very tough."

Although he is known for the fractured pinkie he suffered during the 2002 training camp, Chang has endured painful injuries. In 2001, he missed the final nine games because of a torn ligament in his right wrist.

He left the 2002 ConAgra Hawai'i Bowl because of torn ligaments in the thumb of his throwing hand and in his right knee. During that offseason, he underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair the medial collateral ligament in his right knee.

On the first series of this season, Chang was hit while trying to recover a bouncing snap. He suffered partially torn ligaments in his left shoulder on the play. UH did not announce the injury to the media. Although the damage was to his non-throwing shoulder, Chang winced every time he turned to throw passes to the left side. Several times he was hit on the aching spot while throwing. Chang masked the pain.

"He's physically tough," Jones said. "I know that. I know what he goes through. People are always second-guessing the quarterback. They think he should run more or other things. But I see him every day, and I know, especially this year, he is doing all of the stuff he's supposed to do."

Slotback Chad Owens said "there's a lot of pressure on the quarterback all of the time. Everybody is watching him because he's the one with the ball. Sometimes you play well and people love you. If you don't, people have something to say. That's the way it is. But we know what (Chang) can do."

When Jones accepted the UH coaching job in 1999, he believed that his four-wide passing attack would produce a quarterback who could challenge the NCAA record for most career passing yards. Jones set the way by encouraging the school to distribute promotional DVDs to reporters across the country last year.

Now, with Chang gripping the record, Jones thinks of the future.

"I would think, years from now, everyone will have great pride in what he's done for the school," Jones said. "Should he finish the year strong, he's going to have the record for probably as long as they're playing football."

Reach Stephen Tsai at stsai@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8051.