Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, July 24, 2005

UH had no idea USC game would be so big

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist


The tradition-rich University of Southern California football team was coming off a 5-7 record and its worst Pac-10 finish (eighth) in nine years when the Trojans were approached by the University of Hawai'i with a proposition in early 2001.

UH, which had been jilted by the cancellation of some previously contracted schools, wanted a brand-name opponent, even one in apparent decline, for some future games.

Finalizing a pursuit that began over golf at Hawai'i Prince the previous summer, then-athletic director Hugh Yoshida, assistant Jim Donovan and USC associate AD Daryl Gross worked out the details of a three-game contract, the latest installment of which will now give the Warriors a Sept. 3 home opener with a two-time national champion.

The Trojans, who will sit atop the preseason polls, are a far cry from the opponent the Warriors appeared to be getting when the contract was initialed Feb. 21, 2001, and ready for USC's signature.

Back then, eventual 2004 Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart was finishing up high school, Heisman finalist Reggie Bush was winding up his sophomore year and Pete Carroll had just become the Trojans' third head coach in five years.

A program that had gone a down-and-out — for USC, anyway — 31-29 between 1996 and 2000 has now won 33 of its past 34 games and produced two of the last three Heisman Trophy winners.

Not that you will find many at UH complaining about the turnaround. At least from the ones not charged with stopping the Trojans. Especially not when the "sold out" sign eventually goes up on the box office sometime after individual game tickets go on sale Aug. 15 or when ESPN puts the game in a national spotlight over the Labor Day weekend.

And, it comes at a low, low bargain price. The contract said UH is to provide round trip airfare for 175 people, 95 hotel rooms, per diem, ground transportation and 250 complimentary tickets. Similar terms surround the Sept. 4, 2010, game here. A later addition even got USC to peddle 7,250 tickets to its fans. (UH received a little more than expenses, $150,000, for its appearance at the Coliseum in 2003).

Basically, USC coming here would be like getting U2 or the Rolling Stones to do a concert for not much more than travel expenses while UH kept the gate.

With that the Warriors have bitten off their biggest assignment in 88 seasons of football. UH has taken on some steep ones in previous openers — and won some — but nothing on this scale.

There was the 6-0 upset at Nebraska in 1955, just nine months after UH had absorbed a 50-0 shellacking by the Orange Bowl-bound Cornhuskers in Honolulu. There would also be a 27-24 stunning of No. 9 Iowa in 1988. And not to forget the 10-7 overturning of Washington in Husky Stadium in 1973.

"With USC, it was one of those that worked out for everybody," Yoshida said. "Even if they were 1-9 or 2-10 they were going to be an attraction for us."

Now, coming off 13-0, the Trojans have become so much more.