For this week’s entry in the “Football Throwbacks” series, we’re going ALL the way back to the time of leather helmets, the Fighting Deans and the old Honolulu Stadium.
The year is 1936. The coach is Otto “Proc” Klum. And the Hawaii Fighting Deans, after a series of games against local alumni of McKinley and Kamehameha, were about to play their first collegiate opponent of the year.
That opponent was San Jose State — today’s foe for UH as Mountain West play resumes in Northern California.
But in 1936’s pre-World War II meeting, a listed 17,500 people were present at Honolulu Stadium.
UH would take an early lead, but SJSU proved too tough, winning 13-8 in the first game in a series that’s now among UH’s longest-running, and most closely contested. The Rainbow Warriors lead the Spartans overall, 20-19-1.
Coming in, UH had defeated the Town Team, 12-7, in front of 5,500. So this meeting against SJSU was big stuff. So was McKinley High School’s clash against visiting Bremerton the day after the UH-SJSU game; that matchup was front-page news.
Honolulu Advertiser editor/writer Red McQueen hailed San Jose — then a West Coast powerhouse — as playing “as grand a game of football as has ever been witnessed in these parts.”
Future UH Sports Circle of Honor inductee Tommy Kaulukukui was counted on to do it all for UH — he played quarterback, safety, and punter.
But it was Al Espinda who staked UH to a 6-0 lead, as he blocked a SJSU punt and gathered it in stride for a 25-yard return. Hawaii would add a safety on a bad snap by SJSU that carried over the back of the end zone for an 8-0 lead.
The Spartans struck back with Owen Collins’ 33-yard scoring pass to Lloyd Wattenbarger, plus the extra point, to get within 8-7.
San Jose’s 180-pound fullback Walter McPherson carried the Spartans on the deciding drive with three minutes left in the third quarter. He smashed through the middle of the Hawaii line repeatedly.
McQueen wrote of McPherson, “On his last thirty and a half yard non-stop run, he got away from Tommy Kaulukukui, Hawaii safety which is something very few ball toters have been able to accomplish.”
Hawaii had a chance to reclaim the lead. Kaulukukui hit Espinda with a pass to advance to the Spartans’ 5 yard line. But then, George Aki fumbled going around the left tackle and coach Dudley DeGroot’s team recovered it in the end zone for a touchback, and they were able to run out the clock.
SJSU would finish the season 5-4. while UH was 3-5.
McQueen closed his story by saluting the game officials, who turned in “the best job officiating witnessed here this season.” DeGroot also praised the officials, calling it “the finest officiating I’ve ever seen.” The quality of local officiating had been an issue up until that point in the season.