With attendance a hot-button topic lately for University of Hawaii football, let us journey back to a time when 18,000 people in the stands represented not a disappointment, but a rousing success.
Back to Dec. 3, 1938, when the Rainbows defeated powerhouse San Jose State College for the first time.
The Shrine game took place at the old Honolulu Stadium in front of “a wildly excited assemblage of 18,000 souls — the largest throng ever to witness a football in the Islands” according to Honolulu Advertiser sports editor Red McQueen.
The pageantry that took place, with marching bands aplenty on hand for the Shriners’ crippled children’s hospital benefit game, was itself hailed as just as impressive as the 13-12 win over the Spartans. Otto “Proc” Klum’s squad was a two-touchdown underdog going in, as UH was 0-2 against collegiate competition on the season, both on the mainland (3-2 overall). SJSU was 11-0, having won 13 straight going back to 1937.
Joe Kaulukukui’s scintillating 90-yard interception return for a touchdown carried the day. Herbert Cockett, who caught UH’s first touchdown from Kaulukukui for 5 yards, missed the extra point on his own TD but kicked the one on Kaulukukui’s return narrowly over the crossbar to provide the winning margin in the second quarter.
On his big pick return — one of NINE on the day for UH — Kaulukukui swung to his right then reversed field, and followed his blockers in from the left side.
“It was really something to behold, the way Joe’s teammates levelled practically every Spartan on the field,” McQueen wrote.
“Thereafter Hawaii gave one of the most brilliant demonstrations of defensive football ever witnessed in these parts to protect this (13-0) advantage.” Klum, the Manoa Fox, employed an eight-man defensive front (8-2-1 formation) to baffle SJSU.
That would coax the Spartans to throw an unheard-of 40 passes in the game. They completed 14 for 212 yards … but UH returned its nine picks for 255 yards. Besides Kaulukukui’s heroics, Albert Lee, the fastest player on the team, snared one at the Hawaii 3 for a 68-yard return before being overtaken by SJSU captain Wild Walt McPherson. Art Stranske had a 61-yard pick return in the fourth, with McPherson again saving the touchdown.
San Jose would score twice, but fail on both extra-point conversions. A kick sailed wide on the first. On the second, Kaulukukui, the younger brother to the legendary “Grass Shack” Tommy Kaulukukui, came up huge again before halftime, knocking down Carlton Peregoy’s 2-point conversion pass at the goal line after SJSU center Bob Tichenal blocked Vernon Akee Choy’s punt and recovered it in the end zone.
Neither team would score in the second half.
Per McQueen: “The game will go down as one of the most thrilling skirmishes in the annals of the gridiron sport in these parts. The Moiliili enclosure was no place for anyone afflicted with a weak heart yesterday.”
It was UH’s first win (after two losses, including a 13-8 defeat in the teams’ first meeting in 1936) in a series that leans 21-19-1 in UH’s favor going into today’s matchup at Aloha Stadium.
UH would drop its final two games at home, against Utah and UCLA, to finish the 1938 season at 4-4. Those games were also listed as attended by 18,000.
Dudley DeGroot’s Spartans would finish 11-1 with the game in Honolulu their finale.