The onset of every college football season is preceded by an overflow of baseless polls, cautious and extreme predictions, and flailing jibber-jabber on social media. Who really knows that Arizona is an 11-point favorite? Before the cleats hit the field for the first time, even the best of pundits have a cloudy crystal ball. As it turned out, Honolulu provided the stage for an incredible opening day to the 150th season of college football.
Fans gathered outside Aloha Stadium tailgating and taking in the beats of the Hawaii Marching Band’s drumline. Green and white flags and tents colored the parking lot as talk loomed of a hopeful upset over the Pac Twelve’s Arizona Wildcats. I had the pleasure of sharing pregame with some of the greatest college football fans the sport has to offer proving that it doesn’t matter where the sport is played, college football fan bases are undeniably special. Opening season anticipation saturated the scene and all to the tune of perfect island weather.
On the field for pregame, both teams looked poised with certain jitters fluttering beneath the surface. This was a big moment for the Rainbow Warriors. Coming off their first winning season in a while, they had a lot to prove. But, so did the Wildcats. Being the Pac-12 representative on this day, they had more to lose. That couldn’t have been illustrated better than by an Arizona assistant coach that I overheard inspiring his team with the following: “We didn’t come way out here for nothin’. That’s gonna be a long ass fu*&in’ ride back home, you understand me? I wanna fu#@in’ feel good.”
Adding more color to the event was the honoring of the late head coach Dick Tomey, who coached both Hawai’I and Arizona during his fantastic career. He had passed away in May, and with the tremendous impact he had on both universities, it was fitting that they would meet to begin the season. Many former players came to the game to be part of the tributes throughout the day. Tomey’s family took part in the opening coin toss. He was a very special part of these two schools and of college football overall.
The game turned out to be a shootout. Hawai’i got out to a quick 14-0 lead – one that they would hold onto the entire game. However, the Wildcats kept on their heels right up to the final play. With ten seconds remaining, down 45-38, Arizona QB Khalil Tate took matters into his own hands. Thirty-one yards from a tie, he decided against a Hail Mary pass, tucked the ball, and ran. The crowd grew silently anxious as they watched Tate arrive on the welcome mat of the endzone just to be tackled one yard short as time expired. He picked himself off the turf and immediately sulked to the locker room with Hawai’i players celebrating wildly around him.
The best game of the day went deep into the night for mainlanders. The only dejected player wearing green was QB Cole McDonald, who was pulled after 4 interceptions despite his 4 touchdowns. QB Chevan Cordeiro took over and during postgame explained that he was ready for the moment. WR Cedric Byrd had 4 TDs of his own. Head Coach Rolovich connected it back to a Tomey mantra when he praised his defense in critical moments: “The ball. The ball. The ball.” The sun set over the islands as the sun rose on Hawai’I’s season with a thrilling opening victory.