A long time ago, Tina Turner took a nice little song by Creedence Clearwater Revival — “Proud Mary” — and declared: “You know, every now and then, I think you might like to hear something from us nice and easy. But there’s just one thing, you see, we never do anything nice and easy.”
And that, of course, reminds me of some of the bad asses of UH sports. They weren’t bad people — the opposite, in fact, good family people — but they brought intensity and fearlessness into their sports. They were Niko Noga, Semeri Ulufale, Chris Brown, Kelly McGill, Blaze Soares and Chad Owens in football; Curt Watanabe and Colin Tanabe in baseball; Bob Nash, Thomas Louden and Vincent Smalls in basketball; Tony Ching in men’s volleyball, and Tyleen Tausaga and Kate Robinson in softball. They were tough, competitive and, quite frankly, scared the hanabata out of opponents. One of the best bad asses — Falaniko Vitale, dubbed “Torpedo Head” in his playing days — struggled to make it on the field because he kept suffering impact injuries in practices.
Here are some of the toughest in the athletic department:
Player — Malachi Mageo: A couple summers ago, following intensive training at Waikiki Beach, some players started bickering. Mageo, who probably weighed 200 pounds at the time, stepped in as a peace-maker and pulled away linemen. He single-handedly broke up a potential scrap. That’s respect.
Coach — Chris Naeole: Naeole actually is a really nice and funny guy. But he earns respect and admiration from his offensive linemen because of his tough-like approach and commitment.
Staff — Eric Okasaki: My boss, Paul Arnett, once pointed out that it’s not a significant injury until the head trainer, Okasaki, goes onto the field to treat the player. Okasaki, the dean of athletic department employees, does not tolerate players who do not take their rehab seriously. Behind the stare and the folded arms is a man who cares about the players and his student trainers.
Administration — Jeannie Lee: To get to athletic director David Matlin, you need to get past Lee, and nobody can do that without an appointment and valid reason. She’s smart (master’s degree) and freakishly strong. She also leads UH’s successful blood-donor drive. It’s never a good idea to mess with anyone who can make you give up blood, particularly your own.
Media relations — Neal Iwamoto: There was a lot of behind-the-scenes nonsense a few years ago in men’s basketball. He’s a really nice and calm guy, but he won’t back down if he or anyone else is being treated unfairly.