Daunte Culpepper and Central Florida were no match for a Hawaii team racked with emotion.
On this date in 1995, the Rainbows rallied around teammate Daniel Ho-Ching‘s lymphoma diagnosis and blew out the Knights 45-14 in front of 24,383 fans at Aloha Stadium.
Ho-Ching, who was 18 years old, got the bad news earlier in the week and wrote a letter to his teammates the Tuesday before the contest and gave an impassioned speech before the game.
“He told us we were in our hearts,” Tad Yamashita, who took Ho-Ching’s spot at strong safety, said. “We wanted him to know he was in our hearts.”
Culpepper, who didn’t play until the second quarter for missing curfew on Friday, never had a chance against UH’s inspired defense. The future NFL starter went 26-for-38 for 252 yards. He was intercepted once and sacked five times in the second half.
Hawaii led 14-0 before Culpepper even touched the ball. He scored UCF’s first touchdown on a 12-yard run with 9:33 left in the first half and didn’t do much of anything after that.
Ho-Ching began his chemotherapy treatments three days after the game and finished the first round in February. He expected to play the next year but did not receive medical clearance and redshirted. Ho-Ching endured six rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatment before he shrugged off an offer of a medical retirement that would still honor his scholarship and returned to practice in 1997 and played on special teams in a loss to Air Force in October.
By 1998, he was the team’s top return man and starting safety.
“For me, every day is Thanksgiving Day,” Ho-Ching said before his final regular-season game in 1999. “Thanksgiving isn’t turkey. Thanksgiving, to me, is breathing. It’s waking up every day. I’m thankful to still be around.”