Jason Olson, Deseret News
Bronco Mendenhall has never been to Hawaii as a BYU coach.
Mendenhall's players, except for the Native Islanders on the team or a few vacation excursions by a player or two to Hawaii, haven't made this trip or played in Aloha Stadium, either.
They may think they know what it's about. But they don't. Some don't even try.
"I have no idea, it's just another game to me," said safety Joe Sampson on Monday. "I don't know what to expect, really."
They may have had old-timers like athletic department staffers Tom Holmoe, Chad Lewis or Robbie Bosco give them advice. They'll certainly hear from veteran assistant coaches like Lance Reynolds and Paul Tidwell what to expect in the Hawaii game.
But, honestly, do they really have any clue?
BYU might be an eight-point favorite Saturday against Hawaii. But those odds are, well, odd.
But it will be hearsay testimony. None has played in this game.
BYU hasn't been to Aloha Stadium since 2001, when the Cougars were looking to complete an undefeated season. Doak Walker Award-winner Luke Staley had just broken his ankle in a game at Mississippi State, Brandon Doman was banged up with sore shoulders, and Reno Mahe was recovering from surgery to remove his appendix two weeks prior.
The Cougars scored 45 points that day — and still lost, 72-45.
Hawaii hammered BYU. It wasn't even close. BYU players played like cardboard cutouts and Hawaii players looked like they belonged on the roster of the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
Mahe jacked up his knee in that game. Doman went down to a shoulder injury and BYU finished with Charlie Peterson and then Todd Mortensen at quarterback.
"It has been a long time," Mendenhall told reporters of the last time he'd been to Hawaii to coach football.
"I haven't been to Hawaii with BYU. The last time I was there was with the University of New Mexico. I have only been there twice in terms of my coaching career. I know at one point this was a significant game for both schools. Possibly we can redevelop or develop that into a game like that and this will be one of the first steps."
Ty Detmer received the Heisman Trophy on game day in 1990 in Honolulu, poolside at the Princess Sheraton Kiaulani Hotel near Waikiki Beach. A few hours later, Hawaii beat Detmer and the Cougars 59-28. It was a day BYU gained a total of 667 yards — and still lost by 31 points.
BYU brings out the best in the University of Hawaii football team.
On game day, it is as if Hawaii's training staff puts all the Warrior players on gurneys and plugs electrodes into the side of their heads with some ultra-beta-wave energy pulse of some kind. It transforms them.
It's as if Warrior players who are about 6-feet and 190 pounds play like they are 6-5, 250. All the guys who run 4.6 forty times suddenly can outrace Carl Lewis and Jamaica's Usain Bolt. Hawaii defenses that struggle to tackle, cover and pass-rush suddenly reel out a steel net from sideline to sideline.
Hawaii could draw up a play on a napkin at the local plate lunch stand, show it to players with one given day of practice, and roll it out on game day against BYU and it would work like a Swiss clock against BYU.
The current Hawaii team is 6-6 overall and 3-4 in the WAC. Come Saturday, they'll play like a Top 25 team, if history holds true.
This year, Hawaii has lost to Washington, UNLV, San Jose State, Utah State, Nevada and Fresno State. It did beat Ute-buster Colorado in the season-opener.
But come Saturday, against BYU, it will be the most important athletic event on Oahu this year. Hawaii is playing for a bowl bid, new life, an extended season, and it is icing on the cake that it gets BYU, a team the natives see as their one and only true rival that they haven't seen for a decade.
You get the picture.
On Monday, I asked Mahe what tips he had for BYU's players this week when they get to Honolulu.
Without hesitation, Mahe offered his most important piece of advice.
"Stay away from the ocean," he said. "It is a trap. Stay away from the ocean, just do not go there. Really, it is a trap."
Mahe should know. He arrived in Honolulu with a 12-0 team and left with a beaten-down squad that lost by 27 points.
Aloha, the Warriors said.
"Take your sunburn, and enjoy the long trip home."
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