Rainbows had magical season, bowl victory in '92
By Kyle Sakamoto
Advertiser Staff Writer
Lene Amosa looks back on the University of Hawai'i's 1992 Holiday Bowl season as the best time of his life.
It was a memorable year for the Hawai'i football program, and Amosa remembers it well.
"I love that year; I love that team. I could talk for years about it," said Amosa, then a junior center.
For those who weren't around in 1992 or are a bit fuzzy on that season, the Rainbows — not the Warriors — reached a number of milestones, such as:
Other things also were different back then, for instance:
PROVING 'EM WRONG
In 1992, expectations weren't high for Hawai'i among the media.
The Rainbows were picked to finish eighth in the WAC preseason poll, but the players and coaches knew better.
"They ranked us eighth in preseason, so that was more motivation for us," Amosa said. "If you look at our team, it was one of the most talented teams all-around."
Branch simply called the preseason ranking "an insult."
Wagner was in his sixth season as Hawai'i head coach that year.
"The year before (4-7-1) we played well," Wagner said. "We had a really close loss to Notre Dame. The guys came in confident. I knew we were going to have a good team. I don't know how the media felt about us, but the prognosticators are usually a year behind. You have a good year and then everybody knows about you."
Michael Carter, a junior quarterback, directed the Rainbows' spread offense, which averaged 293.3 rushing yards and 109.7 passing yards per game.
The base play of the offense was the triple option.
The first leg of the play is the quarterback giving the ball to the running back on a quick-hitting dive play up the middle.
If the defensive end tackles the running back, the quarterback pulls the ball out and runs to the perimeter.
If a defensive player from the secondary cuts off the quarterback, he pitches to a trailing slotback.
"It was awesome because it's a triple threat," said Amosa of the spread offense. "They don't know who's getting the ball."
He added the offensive linemen relied on area blocking, and they would often confuse defenders by "scooping" them. An example, Amosa said, would be leaving a defender unblocked on one play, then double-teaming him when the same play is called later.
Senior running back Travis Sims carried the ball 220 times for a school single-season record 1,498 yards.
"Travis Sims had a great season," Wagner said. "He was in the shadows of Jamal Farmer (1989-90) and had a breakout year his senior year."
Branch caught 25 passes for 491 yards and five touchdowns, both team highs.
"We didn't throw very much, but we did it effectively," he said.
Branch took a lot of pride in his perimeter blocking.
"My goal going into every game was to block well, and don't let my guy make the tackle," he said.
"I liked blocking guys, sealing off my guy and seeing my guy (teammate) fly by."
Taase Faumui, Maa Tanuvasa and Junior Tagoai anchored the Hawai'i defensive line, while safety Bryan Addison led the team with 93 total tackles.
Hawai'i had a huge advantage in special teams because of Jason Elam.
He was a first-team All-America placekicker, who finished his career 79 of 100 on field-goal attempts. Elam ranks third in NCAA history with 395 points.
He also averaged 43.51 yards per punt in his career.
Elam spent the first 15 years of his NFL career with the Denver Broncos, and completed his first season with the Atlanta Falcons in 2008.
"Jason Elam, he's still kicking as they say," Wagner said. "We emphasized the kicking game and he was huge."
Four players from the 1992 Hawai'i team were selected in the NFL draft: Elam (third round '93; Denver Broncos); Faumui (fourth '94; Pittsburgh Steelers); Tanuvasa (seventh '93; St. Louis Rams) and Branch (seventh '93; Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
The Rainbows opened the season by winning road games against Oregon (24-21) and Air Force (6-3).
"It was a tough way to open the season," Wagner said. "I look at future (UH) schedules and see back-to-back road games (to start). That's not ideal."
Hurricane Iniki passed over Kaua'i the day before the victory over Air Force. The Category 4 hurricane caused $1.8 billion in damage and six deaths.
The team had a bye the following week and some team members decided to help out.
"We did volunteer work with the food bank," Wagner said. "The hurricane came through that weekend when we were in Colorado Springs."
Hawai'i beat BYU in its next game, 36-32, the third time in four years the Rainbows beat their biggest rival.
Hawai'i's Stewart Williams recovered a late fumble deep in Rainbow territory, Ivin Jasper threw a long pass to Matthew Harding, and Marlowe Lewis caught the go-ahead 10-yard touchdown pass with 37 seconds remaining.
The Rainbows lost their next game at Utah, then won four in a row to go to 7-1.
Hawai'i lost at San Diego State, then won its final four games.
Hawai'i's final WAC game, against Wyoming, was critical.
To win a share of the WAC title, Hawai'i needed Fresno State to win at San Diego State, and the Rainbows needed to beat Wyoming at Aloha Stadium.
The Bulldogs came through, 45-41, and Hawai'i routed the Cowboys, 42-18.
"Once we found out (Fresno State) won, we said 'Let's go play,'" said Amosa, who can't recall if he played against Wyoming because of an ankle injury.
"It was an awesome feeling to win. I don't think I played that game. I think I was hurt. I have an album of pictures. There's one of us carrying Bob Wagner off the field. I didn't even look sweaty."
Hawai'i's final three wins were against nonconference opponents.
On Dec. 30, 1992, Hawai'i faced Illinois of the Big Ten in the Holiday Bowl at San Diego and won, 27-17.
That day also was the birthday of Branch's mother.
Fittingly, Branch helped put the game away by catching a 53-yard touchdown pass from Carter in the fourth quarter to put the Rainbows up, 27-10.
Branch caught the ball inside the 25 and sprinted down the left side for the score. As he crossed the goal line, he pointed toward his mother in the stands.
"That play was the nail in the coffin," Branch said. "We told Mike they're coming (with pressure), get it out quick. The defender was right on me. I came back for the ball and tried to make a play. Mike got hit right in the chops on that play. As I caught the ball, the defender fell down, and I was one of the faster guys in the conference."
Carter rushed for 105 yards and passed for 115 en route to offensive MVP honors. Sims ran for 112 yards and two touchdowns.
Tagoai won defensive MVP honors with four tackles and one sack.
The Illini defense featured linebacker Kevin Hardy and defensive end Simeon Rice, who were selected No. 2 and No. 3 overall, respectively, in the 1996 NFL draft.
"I talked to one of their coaches recently and he said five or six kids on defense played in the NFL and one or two on offense were picked in the first round," Wagner said.
In all, Hawai'i went 5-1 against bowl-bound teams in 1992, and the WAC was stronger top to bottom back then.
For comparison's sake, the 2007 Hawai'i team finished 12-0 in the regular season against a weak schedule, then got routed by Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. The Warriors finished 3-1 against bowl-bound teams.
"I think it was a very special year and special team," said Wagner of the '92 team. "In my mind up to this point it's the best team based on the schedule and who we beat."
Branch says he stays in touch with 1992 teammates Lewis, Brian Gordon and Zac Odom.
"We talk about the old times," Branch said. "We feel we were the best team in University of Hawai'i history.
"If the 12-0 team had played respectably against Georgia, you could say otherwise."