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Bowl History: The Hawaii Bowl

SoFi Hawai’i Bowl - Hawaii v BYU Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

With Part 3 of the Mountain West Bowl History series, I’m going to take a look at the various incarnations of the Hawaii Bowl. Yes, I know some of these didn’t feature the Mountain West, but I figured I better cover all of the different versions of the game. Let’s get going, all the way back in the olden days of college football.

The Poi Bowl (1936-1939):

This is an odd one, but it was the first attempt at the Hawaii Warriors to entice teams from the mainland to come out to the islands for a post-season game. This one pitted the University of Hawaii against a team from the PCC (now PAC-12), except for a weird game in 1937 where they played the Honolulu All-Stars team instead. That 1937 game would also be the only time the Rainbow Warriors would win the game, as they lost to USC, Washington, and UCLA in rather embarrassing fashion the other three times. The Trojans smoked them 38-6 in 1936, Washington absolutely demolished them 53-13 in 1938, and UCLA comfortably won 32-7 in 1939. Hawaii’s one win was an 18-12 win over the Honolulu All-Stars semi-pro team. There was also a one-off Poi Bowl in 1945 played between Navy and the Army Air Force, utilizing the bases on the island. Navy would win 14-0, but the mainline Hawaii Bowl game had already transformed itself into the Pineapple Bowl by war’s end.

The Pineapple Bowl (1940-1952):

After the end of the Poi Bowl the year before, the Hawaii Pineapple Growers Association and the Honolulu Junior Chamber of Commerce put their name on this game, again pitting the Rainbows against a mainland team, although this time not bound by conference affiliation. This led to a more varied opponent list for Hawaii, and 3 wins over the course of this bowl game’s existence. The game started on New Year’s Day 1940, kicking off the new decade with the Beavers of Oregon State making the week-long boat ride to the islands, and coming away with a 39-6 win over the Rainbows. How they scored 39, I don’t know, but this was a good Oregon State team, going 9-1-1 on the season. This would also be the last game coached by longtime Hawaii coach Otto Klum, who had helped spearhead the construction of Honolulu Stadium and coached Hawaii’s first All-American player.

In the 1941 game, Fresno State made the long trip out to the islands for the 3rd meeting between the now storied rivals. The teams had done a home/home in 1938 and 1939, both won by the Bulldogs. The 1941 Pineapple Bowl would be no different, although this one was a decidedly low-scoring affair. The Bulldogs would come away with a 3-0 win, again denying the Rainbows their maiden win in the series. The highlight of the game was a huge parade put on by the Junior Chamber of Commerce, ending with the crowning of the Pineapple Queen. Sadly, this would be the last Pineapple Bowl until 1947 as World War 2 put a massive damper on college football and the world at large.

Before jumping to the post-war period, I will toss in one more little historical fact. On December 6, 1941, the Rainbows would face off against Willamette University in the Shrine Football Classic. In front of a sold-out Honolulu Stadium, the Rainbows would move to 8-1, and a spot atop the Western College Independents standings. The next morning, the Japanese Navy would attack Pearl Harbor, kicking off the war. Both football teams were pressed into military service against a possible invasion, given rifles, directed to lay barbed wire, defended gasoline storage tanks, and acted as police during the chaos of the day. The Willamette Bearcats would be stuck on the island until December 19th, when they were finally able to get a ship back to the mainland, arriving back in San Francisco on Christmas Day to a much different country than the one they had left a month earlier.

Due to the events of World War 2, most teams would not resume normal operations until 1946, and the Pineapple Bowl returned to Honolulu Stadium on New Year’s Day, 1947. This time, the 8-2 Rainbows would face off against the 8-3 Utah Utes of the Mountain States Conference. As Thomas Kaulukukui, Hawaii’s first All-American player concluded his first full year as head coach, Hawaii would also notch their first win in the Pineapple Bowl 19-16 over the visiting Utes.

The Rainbows would back-up that first Pineapple Bowl win with a repeat the next season, this time taking on the Bulldogs of The University of Redlands. This game was a nailbiter, with Hawaii escaping with a 33-32 victory to even up their record in the bowl game. This was also the first bowl game where a team would fly out for the game, in an absolutely unheard of 11 hours from San Bernadino to Honolulu. In a rain-soaked game, a rainbow would appear late in the 4th quarter, with legend stating that it spurred the home team to victory on a last-second touchdown play to win by a single point.

The 1949 game again featured the visiting Beavers of Oregon State against Hawaii, and sadly the same result happened. The Beavers came in with a definitely unorthodox record of 4-4-3, and their longtime coach Lon Stiner announced that the Pineapple Bowl would be his final game. The Rainbows came in a much more convention 6-2, but it was the Beavers who would be victorious in the game, 47-27, sending off Stiner with a final victory and a final record of 5-4-3, probably the only time you’ve ever seen that record before.

1950 would leave the Rainbows with their worst loss for more than 50 years, as the Stanford Indians came to the islands and blew out Hawaii to the tune of 74-20. And it’s not like Stanford was a juggernaut team that season, they were a respectable 6-3-1, and had lost their ranking the prior game after losing to No.3 Cal. Hawaii though would have absolutely no answer for the offense of Stanford. They jumped out to a 20-0 first quarter lead, but it would be six 4th quarter touchdowns that truly turned this game into a farce that would spell the end for Tom Kaulukukui’s coaching tenure in Manoa. See Major Applewhite, you weren’t the first coach to get fired after an embarrassing bowl game performance.

To illustrate how weird football was in the immediate post-war period, the 1951 Pineapple Bowl featured the 3-7 Rainbows against a Denver Pioneers team that finished their regular season at 3-7-1. The Pioneers even made a week of it, dominating the Honolulu All-Stars team 76-6 on Christmas Day. The official Pineapple Bowl would not go as well for the Pioneers, but the Rainbows would get back in the win column after the terrible 1950 game. The Rainbows would win their second bowl game by 1 point, taking down the Pioneers 28-27 after a missed Denver kick sealed the deal for the Bows.

The final Pineapple Bowl would feature a pairing that would become far more common the future, with the Aztecs of San Diego State making the trip out to play Hawaii. This featured the undefeated CCAA champion Aztecs, with the only blemish on their record being a 27-27 tie with Arizona State. They would face off against first year coach Hank Vasconcellos and his 5-4-2 Rainbows. This Aztecs team was very strong, and showed that strength by taking care of business against Hawaii, 34-13 to finish a 10-0-1 season. Unfortunately, this would also be the last Pineapple Bowl, as the Chamber of Commerce and University decided to no longer sponsor the game after the 1951 season. There would be one attempt to restart the bowl game in 1980, but the NCAA had taken over bowl games by then, and turned down the application due to the Pro Bowl also coming to the Aloha Bowl.

The Aloha Bowl (1982-2000):

Normally, I’d devote a huge segment to the Aloha Bowl, which was one of the highest profile bowl games of the period, and was famous for it’s Christmas morning gametime. The weird thing though, is that even though it was played in Hawaii’s home stadium, the Rainbow Warriors only appeared in the game once, where #25 Hawaii fell to #22 Michigan State 33-13 in the 1989 edition of the Aloha Bowl.

The Oahu Bowl (1998-2000):

The end of the Aloha Bowl’s time also featured a rare doubleheader at Aloha Stadium, with the Oahu Bowl being played three times at the end of the 90s. Both games were sponsored by Chrysler, splitting sponsors between Jeep and Chrysler. The Aloha Bowl would take the first spot of Christmas Day, with the Oahu Bowl following afterwards. The 1998 version featured future MWC member Air Force, as the No.16 and 11-1 Falcons took on the Washington Huskies on Christmas Day. Air Force would easily handle the Huskies, capping off a 12-1 season with a final No. 13 ranking in the AP Poll.

Oddly enough though, Hawaii would only play in one Oahu Bowl as well. The squared off against Oregon State on Christmas Day, 1999, and finally came out victorious. The Rainbow Warriors defeated the Beavers 23-17 in June Jones’ first season, capping off the biggest turnaround in NCAA history. The 1998 Warriors were 0-12, while the 1999 version ended 9-4, with their first bowl win since 1951.

The Hawaii Bowl (2002-present)

In 2002, after a two year break, post-season football returned to the islands, as the Hawaii Bowl sponsored by ConAgra Foods appeared on the Christmas Day schedule. Hawaii’s new home of the WAC would take over the primary tie-in, with the opponent originally coming from Conference USA. The contract was set in such a way that if Hawaii gained bowl eligibility, they would be automatically slotted to their home bowl game unless a larger game in the BCS came calling for the Warriors.

The first game would pit the Tulane Green Wave from C-USA against the home Warriors, matching the 7-5 Wave against the 10-3 Warriors. Hawaii would jump out to a 14-0 lead, with Tulane only managing two field goals in the first half. The game would turn in the 3rd quarter, spurred by a Tulane punt return for a touchdown. Their 2pt conversion would fail, bringing the score to 14-12. Unfortunately for Hawaii, Timmy Chang would go down with an injury in the 3rd quarter, which would spell doom for the home team. Shawn Withy-Allen played admirably in his stead, throwing for 2 more touchdowns, but Tulane would not be denied in the second half. They would score 5 times in the second half, including a safety to put an exclamation point on the game to take the first Hawaii Bowl victory, 36-28.

The 2003 Hawaii Bowl would be one for the ages, and featured one of the wildest endings in a bowl game, concluding with a massive brawl between the Houston Cougars and the Hawaii Warriors. This was also the first time that Sheraton Hotels would sponsor the game, as a way to increase business to their Hawaiian resorts. The 2003 game would feature two incredible offenses and high-flying QBs in Kevin Kolb and Timmy Chang in the first ever meeting for the two teams. The Cougars would get on the board first, but this game became a back-and-forth affair all day. Weirdly enough, Timmy Chang did not get the start in this game, but came in during the second quarter to replace injured Jason Whieldon.

In a game that began with a bomb threat caused by a suspicious package, the fireworks were all on the field, with the teams trading touchdowns, then fists. Houston scored the first 10 points, with Hawaii only managing a field goal in the opening frame, and both teams would score 10 more points in the second quarter, giving the Cougars a 7 point advantage going into the locker room. The third quarter would belong solely to Hawaii, as they notched two touchdowns now with Timmy Chang under center. The teams would go back and forth, with Hawaii holding a 7 point lead into the final minute of regulation. Kevin Kolb though would answer the bell with an 81yd touchdown pass to Vincent Marshall with only 22 seconds left in the game.

In the overtime period, Hawaii would score first, but Houston answered back. Houston would rush in a touchdown to go up 48-41 in the second overtime, but Timmy Chang and Jason Rivers would meet up for a 19yd touchdown pass to knot things up once again at 48. The third overtime was where things went absolutely bonkers though, with Michael Brewster running the ball in from 8 yards out to put the Warriors up once again. Their ensuing 2pt conversion would fail, giving Houston a chance at victory. It was not to be for the Cougars, as Hawaii held tough, and stopped Houston on a 4th and 5 heave to the sideline. Final score Hawaii 54, Houston 48. This was when tensions boiled over, and Hawaii and Houston players got into an all-out brawl near mid-field. Helmets and punches were thrown, all of the excess police was needed, and a fair amount of the Christmas magic was lost at the end of a truly exceptional bowl game.

In 2004, the Hawaii Bowl would move to its more familiar place on Christmas Eve, due to ESPN purchasing the rights to NBA games on Christmas Day. The game would kick off at 2PM Hawaiian time, or a late kick at 8PM on the East Coast. The 2004 game featured Hawaii hosting the Blazers of UAB, both teams coming in with 7 wins on their season. In what would be yet another offensive showdown, Timmy Chang and Chad Owens dominated for the Warriors, connecting for 2 touchdowns, with Owens returning a punt for a touchdown, and Chang rushing for an additional touchdown. While UAB was able to keep pace in the 1st half, going into the locker room down only 2 points, Hawaii would begin to pull away in the second half. Three third quarter scores by the Warriors put the game out of reach, and the final exclamation point would be a Britton Komine kick-off return after UAB pulled within two scores. The Warriors would win their second straight Hawaii Bowl by a score of 59-40. This would also send Timmy Chang off into the record books as the NCAA career passing leader at the peak of the run and shoot offense.

2005 would be the first Hawaii Bowl without the local team playing in it, as the Warriors would shuffle to a 5-7 record. This 4th Hawaii Bowl would pit the Wolf Pack of Nevada against the Golden Knights of UCF. Nevada had won the WAC, while UCF was the runner-up in C-USA, the first time the game featured the WAC champion. Nevada was making their first bowl appearance in a decade, while UCF was participating in their first ever bowl game, a year after they had gone 0-11.

The Knights would race out to a 14-0 lead behind Brandon Marshall’s exceptional play. Nevada would get on the board to end the first quarter down 7, but they would own the second quarter due to UCF mistakes. After being down by a touchdown, Nevada would explode for 3 touchdowns in the second quarter, while UCF could only manage two Matt Prater field goals. This would flip the box score, this time with Nevada up by 8 at the half. In the second half, UCF would score twice, but went for 2 both times, missing both conversions. This left Nevada with a 4 point deficit, which they quickly turned into a 10 point lead in the 4th quarter. UCF would answer back in the final minutes to tie the game at 42, sending it to overtime.

In the bonus frame, Jeff Rowe would score on a 4 yard run, drawing first blood, and putting the Wolf Pack up 49-42. Kevin Smith would answer in two short plays for the Knights, scooting up the sideline to bring the score to 49-48, with Matt Prater called on to send it to a second overtime. Prater though would push the ball, sending it past the right upright, sealing an exciting win for Nevada, and giving them their first bowl game victory in a decade, starting them on the road to 7 straight bowl games.

In 2006, the Warriors would make a return to the bowl in their home stadium, this time with the PAC-10 taking the spot opposite the Warriors. Arizona State came with at 7-5, with head coach Dirk Koetter already being informed that he would not be returning for 2007. On the other hand, Hawaii came in with 10 wins and at the peak of their run and shoot era under June Jones that would take them to the Sugar Bowl the next year. This game would be famous for Colt Brennan breaking the NCAA single season touchdown record with 58, a record that would hold until Joe Burrow broke it in 2019. Even though the Sun Devils held the lead at the break after a slow start 10-3, Hawaii woke up in the second half, with Brennan throwing 5 TD passes in the second half to lead the Warriors to a 41-24 victory, and their school record 11th win.

The 2007 edition of the game would bump the date of the game forward once again, to December 23rd with Christmas Eve falling on a Monday that year. Hawaii missed the bowl again, this time because they were undefeated and headed to the Nokia Sugar Bowl on January 1st. That left WAC runner-up Boise State as the conference representative, facing off against East Carolina from C-USA. Boise was expected to dominate, coming in 10-2 and ranked #22 in the country. Vegas gave the Broncos a 10 12 point cushion, even after Boise had three top players suspended for breaking team rules. Like they say though, that’s why they play the game.

ECU, behind star running back Chris Johnson, rushed to a 31-14 halftime lead, but the Broncos were too good of a team to just roll over and give up. Boise was able to inch closer in the 3rd quarter, with the gap standing at 38-24 heading into the final quarter. The Broncos though would dominate the last frame, scoring twice to tie the game up with only one minute remaining. ECU would start their final drive on their own 9 yard line, with the Boise defense looking to force overtime. Sadly for the Broncos though, they just couldn’t keep the Pirates at bay, with ECU moving ever closer to field goal range. With only 4 seconds remaining, the Pirates took a timeout from the 16 yard line dead-center, with Ben Hartman ready to test his leg. He would send the ball straight between the uprights as the clock ran out, giving ECU a massive upset victory, 41-38 over the ranked Broncos.

After losing in the Sugar Bowl, and losing June Jones and Colt Brennan, Hawaii was back in their home bowl game for 2008. This became one of the oddest pairings of the Hawaii Bowl, as it was the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame that would face off against the Warriors in the bowl game. QB Jimmy Clausen and WR Golden Tate controlled the game for the Irish, and Hawaii had zero answer for Notre Dame, being blown out 49-21, giving ND their first bowl victory in 15 years.

The 2009 edition of the Hawaii would not go better for the WAC, even though it was much better for June Jones. He made his first return to Aloha Stadium since leaving after the 2007 season, this time as the coach of SMU. The Mustangs were in their first bowl game since being shut down by the NCAA in the 1987 season. Nevada would again represent for the WAC, as Hawaii slipped back below bowl eligibility. Even with Colin Kaepernick at the helm, Nevada was dominated in every facet of the game, and SMU got an emotional bowl victory 45-10.

The 2010 game seemed on paper to be a perfect matchup. Hawaii came in as WAC co-champs at 10-3, while Tulsa finished their season 9-3 and second in their C-USA division. Bryant Moniz led the nation in passing, with Tulsa averaging more than 500yds/game on offense. The game was an offensive show, but far more from the Golden Hurricane’s side. Even though Hawaii was favored by 10 points, Tulsa would end the first half up 31-14, and would never look back. They would continue to rack up points, eventually running straight past the Warriors to a 62-35 Hurricane victory.

2011 continued to the WAC’s losing streak, with Nevada again on the losing side of the bowl. For the first time since 2008, the WAC representative was the underdog in this game, as the opponent was a ranked Southern Mississippi team coming off a massive upset of Houston in the C-USA title game. The game was close, with both teams going scoreless in the first quarter. After getting on the board in the second quarter, the game would go to the half with Southern Miss up 17-14. Nevada would put up the only points in the 3rd quarter with a field goal, but the Golden Eagles would answer with a touchdown in the 4th quarter to take the victory, 24-17.

The 2012 game was supposed to break the streak for WAC/MWC losses, as the bowl transitioned to the new conference with Hawaii moving to the Mountain West in 2012. It would pit MWC co-champ Fresno State against lowly SMU from C-USA, and Fresno State was favored by two touchdowns because of Derek Carr and Davante Adams. Too bad for all involved, the Bulldogs had no answer for SMU DE Margus Hunt, Derek Carr would reveal after the game he had playing with a hernia, and SMU flew by to an utterly shocking 43-10 victory to continue the losing streak for yet another year.

2013 would change things up a bit, as this time the Mountain West representative would be squaring off against the PAC-12 this time, with the Oregon State Beavers coming to the islands to play Boise State. Before the game, Boise dealt with the twin blows of Chris Petersen leaving to take the head coaching job at the University of Washington, and QB Joe Southwick being suspended for allegedly urinating off of a hotel balcony. The combination of those, and the offense of Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks were too much for Boise to handle. The streak of despair continued for the conference, now reaching 7 games.

2014 would not make things better for the Mountain West. Fresno State limped into the game in one of the oddest conference seasons, winning the division at 6-6. Boise State would be invited to the Fiesta Bowl, sending Fresno to play against the C-USA representative Rice Owls. This trip to the islands would go no better for the Bulldogs, once again showing Tim DeRuyter’s bad preparation for bowl games. The Owls would dominate every facet of the game, defeating the Bulldogs 30-6 in what was called the worst bowl game of the 2014 post-season. This would send the conference’s losing streak all the way out to 8 games before it would finally be broken the next year.

2015 finally saw the Mountain West/former WAC win in the Hawaii Bowl, for the first time since 2006. San Diego State came in as Mountain West champions, winning 9 straight conference games en route to defeating Air Force for the trip to Hawaii. SDSU would also be playing in a bowl game in Hawaii for the first time since 1952, and they’d be facing the Cincinnati Bearcats of the American Athletic Conference. The AAC had taken over the conference tie-in from C-USA after the 2014 season, finally pitting the two top Group of 5 conferences against each other in the post-season.

The Aztecs scored early and often, with Rashaad Penny taking the opening kickoff of the game 100 yards for a touchdown. From that point on, it was all Aztecs, all the time. They would score twice in every quarter, and scored in all three phases of the game. The Bearcats wouldn’t even get on the board until the final 3 minutes of the game, finally breaking the shutout to end at a slightly less embarrassing 42-7, finally snapping the MWC/WAC losing streak in the Hawaii Bowl, and getting the MWC their first win in Hawaii.

2016 would see the return of the Hawaii Warriors to their eponymous bowl game, finally emerging from the dark days of the Norm Chow era under former QB Nick Rolovich. For the second time in 3 years, the MWC representative would have a losing record coming in to the game, with the Warriors having a 6-7 record to barely qualify for the game. This game would actually feature a return for Conference USA, with Middle Tennessee facing off against Hawaii. The Blue Raiders got on the board first, getting out to a 14-0 lead before Hawaii’s offense began to wake up. After being down for a pair of touchdowns, the Warriors would reel off 4 straight touchdowns, adding one more after an MTSU touchdown to take a 14 point lead into the locker room.

The second half of the game would be Hawaii keeping the Blue Raiders at arm’s length, not allowing them closer than 10 points for the rest of the game. Dru Brown would throw for 4 touchdowns and run for an additional score to power the new look run and shoot offense to their first bowl win since the 2006 edition of the Hawaii Bowl.

After another surprising turnaround season under new coach Jeff Tedford, Fresno State would return to the Hawaii Bowl in 2017. This year, the tie-in would bounce back to the AAC, putting the Bulldogs up against the Houston Cougars. This would be Houston’s first time in the bowl game since their infamous 2003 game against Hawaii. This would also be the first ever meeting between the two teams, and the big story was how Fresno State’s offense could defend Ed Oliver, and how Fresno State’s defense could slow down D’Eriq King. The game showed both teams to be very evenly matched, with both teams going score for score through the halftime break, Fresno up 13-10. The Bulldogs seemed to be more in control in the 3rd quarter, looking to go up 10 points off of a Jimmy Camacho field goal. The try would be blocked, and Houston would run it all the way back 94 yards to tie the game back up.

Jimmy Camacho would continue to keep the Bulldogs in front, chipping in two more field goals to put the lead to 6. Houston would begin driving down the field, but Jaron Bryant was able to wrangle a tipped pass from D’Eriq King, and ran it into the endzone to put the Dogs ahead for good, 33-20. Houston would score in the last minute of the game, but Fresno State managed to hold them off to take their first bowl victory in a full decade, and their first 10 win season since 2013. Would also give the MWC back-to-back-to-back bowl victories in Hawaii for the first time since 2003-2005.

2018 would unfortunately be a loss for the conference, but the bigger story came from the Bulldogs of Louisiana Tech. Defensive End Jaylon Ferguson broke the NCAA career sack record during the game on the way to MVP honors. Louisiana Tech would control the game from start to finish, with their defense completely stymying Hawaii’s offense, and Hawaii’s porous defense offering little resistance to J’Mar Smith and the Bulldogs. If there was one plus for the Warriors, it was that both Chevan Cordeiro and Cole McDonald threw touchdown passes during the game, which must be an odd bit of college football trivia.

In the most recent edition of the SoFi Hawaii Bowl, the Warriors would again get to have one more home game on the season, this time against the Cougars of BYU. This would be the 32nd all-time meeting for the two teams, both former members of the WAC from 1979-1998. The Warriors would also come in to the game with their first West Division title in the Mountain West after winning the tie-breaker over SDSU to go the title game. Again riding the run and shoot offense, Hawaii would not be denied this time in their bowl game. They led by a touchdown after the first half, but a shockingly silent 3rd quarter meant anything could happen in the last frame as BYU drew level with the Warriors. The Cougars would take the lead with a field goal to start the 4th quarter, giving the Warriors almost 15 minutes to answer for the win.

It would take Hawaii only two minutes to drive their way down the field, only for the trying field goal attempt to push wide, keeping BYU in front. The Cougars would then drive their way down the field, before then missing their field goal attempt to go up by 6. Hawaii was still alive, but time was running ever shorter. A drive to mid-field stalled, BYU went 3 and out, and Hawaii got the ball back with 2 minutes to go. It’s a good thing the Warrior offense is built on speed and big plays. On a 3rd down play, McDonald found his tight end down at the 25 yard line with 80 seconds left. Then with a minute left, Nick Mardner was open down the middle, and scored the pivotal touchdown for Hawaii. Not even the celebration penalties could stop the PAT from going through, and the Warriors had the lead. BYU’s last gasp effort was thwarted by an interception, and Hawaii took home the trophy in the most recent Hawaii Bowl.

So there you have it. 75 years of Hawaii Bowl history in one place. The Potato Bowl will be the next game to get the in-depth history look, and luckily, that game has been around a much shorter time. For all your Mountain West news, stayed tuned to Mountain West Connection.