Arizona Wildcats vs Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, 8/24/2019, 4:30pm

Final Score: Hawaii 45 – Arizona 38; Attendance: 22,396

Weather: Sunny, High 80’s; Ticket: $42; Uber: $60

Review: “Mahalo, but no mahalo” by Tree

The Site:

Aloha Stadium is best known for the NFL Pro Bowl, but that game left for Orlando a few years ago. The stadium is on its last legs and is scheduled to be replaced around 2025. They did put in a new video scoreboard this year. Honestly, if what we saw was new, I can’t imagine what the old one was like. I have seen better pictures from a Zenith in a wood paneled basement. We found it was serviceable once the game started.

We bought our tickets direct from the University website. It is hot in Hawaii and since we couldn’t just jump in the ocean when we started to melt, shade was a priority. The kickoff was at 4:30, but we didn’t want to risk being baked like a pineapple glazed pig. So, we opted for pricier tickets at $42. With fees, stub hub prices were about the same. This put us at the goal line about 20 rows up. I did do a brief check with a scalper. He was selling tickets for the upper deck in the North end of the stadium for twenty bucks. That was roughly the same as StubHub, but awful seats – sun and no scoreboard. The game was not close to a sellout, with the stadium about a third full. They did do a “best seat in house” promotion which was decidedly not the best seat in the house. It was right behind the end zone camera.

We did not tailgate, which was a mistake with cash lots around the stadium coming in at $8. We did walk around briefly, hitting a fairly weak fan zone for the kids. Nothing says fun like a sweltering bounce house on black asphalt. I would not describe the tailgating as robust as there were more cars just parked rather than fans tailgating. There were some folks with custom setups so I would give it a slightly below average rating.

We entered the stadium uncharacteristically early for me, but my wife wanted to make sure we got the give-away hand towels. We did successfully get the Heineken promotional towel, and it gave us some time to check out the stadium vendors. There was a nice mix of local and standard fare. The offering included Korean and Hawaiian BBQ, garlic shrimp, hot dogs, sausage, and pizza. We opted for the Korean BBQ which was pretty good except for one very uncooked shrimp. A rather unfortunate previous experience with shellfish has taught me to avoid such items lest I spend the rest of the game in restroom. Beer was also plentiful, but with the heat the Icee’s were more our speed. I did have a beer following the BBQ, just as insurance.

The biggest disappointment was the lack of a souvenir cup. What in the world is the Hawaii SID thinking?  I did compensate with a unique “shaka” foam finger, but admittedly, the lack of a Hawaii cup will haunt me. The restrooms were plentiful and true to the age of the stadium – complete with urinal trough. The stadium seats did have seat backs and the levels were the colors of the rainbow. I hope they keep that theme for the new stadium, but make sure they are in the right order. Have the Warriors not heard of ROYGBIV? The audio system was weak as was the racing “dots” video scoreboard animation. Every stadium I have been to does some version of the video race during extended time outs. I have never seen weaker graphics for that promotion. Maybe they were sticking with late ‘70s basement theme.

There really were not too many standout traditions to note. They do play two national anthems at the start of the game, the other being that of the former country of Hawaii. Folks do make the shaka sign with the hands (“hang loose”) from time to time, but it is not prominent. There were no signature cheers and no mascot roaming the sidelines. However, the fans were vocal and into the game. The Hawaii band sounded good throughout the game.

The Logistics:

If you don’t live on Oahu the first order is a plane ride from the mainland. It will take you anywhere from six to twelve hours to get to Honolulu and the flight won’t be cheap. We used air miles to take out the sting and turned it into a week’s vacation. We stayed at an Air BNB in Waikiki. Despite being up high with an excellent view of the ocean and beach, we still saved at least $100 a day versus a big chain hotel. While Waikiki is close to the university, neither is anywhere near the stadium. With just a little planning we could have taken the bus, but instead we opted for an Uber which cost about $30 each way (after we waited out the Uber peak pricing which climbed to nearly $80. Here’s a tip – it only took 15 minutes to drop back down. I did not consider tailgating because I didn’t think renting a car and paying for parking would have been worthwhile. However, that was a mistake. Parking was only $8, perhaps the cheapest parking on the island, and renting a car would have only run us about $40. So yeah, I botched that for sure. The tailgating is going to be hot in most instances, so unless you schlepped your EZ Up on the plane you’ll be sweating bullets. Lots of cold beer can help alleviate that condition. The choice is yours, but tailgating is doable even as a visitor.

The Game:

Hawaii has slowly been improving the last couple of seasons, finishing 8 – 6 last year. Arizona went 5 – 7 last year. Though the PAC 10 was down in 2018, conventional wisdom says it is still generally a better conference than the Mountain West. I was hopeful the combination of all the above meant that it would be a competitive game. I was not disappointed. This was a great game to watch, even if not perfectly executed. There were several turnovers (six interceptions and two fumbles) and it was a high scoring affair. Hawaii came in aggressive, going for it on a fourth and one from their 34-yard line. When I saw that, I knew Hawaii was in it to win it. They made it, but their QB Cole McDonald threw a pick at the Arizona 29-yard line a few plays later to end the drive. Three plays later, Arizona’s Khalil Tate returned the favor, throwing a pickle at midfield. It was a sloppy game and there was plenty more where that came from. The Warriors’ McDonald would hit Cedric Byrd for a short touchdown on the next drive. The Wildcats had no answer for Byrd who torched them for over two hundred yards and four touchdowns. I mean, a double team or perhaps a halftime adjustment? First stop for the Arizona defensive backs after the game?  Shriners Burn Unit at Honolulu General.

Arizona had a four and out. The Warriors answered with another drive punctuated with a fourth down completion making it 14-0. The Wildcats finally responded with a touchdown drive off another McDonald interception, cutting the lead to seven. They traded another set of touchdowns. McDonald then threw his third pick, allowing Arizona to tie the score at 21. McDonald, who was certainly resilient, managed to drive the Warriors down the field for another touchdown culminating with a 35-yard pass to, you guessed it, Cedric Byrd. Arizona closed out the half with a 3 and out, down 28 -21.

Arizona received the kick-off to start the second half, but couldn’t do much with it. They punted after one first down. Hawaii promptly drove down the field with the help of another long Byrd reception. They scored again making it 35-21. So, the Warriors were cruising, but apparently the offense wanted to make it interesting. The Hawaii defense would stop Arizona and then the Warrior offense would turn the ball over. The Wildcats capitalized on the second consecutive Hawaii fumble to cut the lead to seven. McDonald then threw his fourth pick and Arizona tied the game up shortly after that. You would have thought the game was a lei, because the Warriors kept trying to give it away.

Hawaii’s coach, Nick Rolovich, must have had enough of the turnovers because he yanked McDonald and put in his back up, Chevan Cordeiro. It was another gutsy move and Cordeiro drove the Warriors down for a field goal. The Wildcats weren’t going to go quietly and quickly went down the field until the Warrior safety, Ikem Okeke made a goal line interception and returned it to mid-field. Did I mention the Wildcats had no answer for Byrd? A few plays later he caught a 30-yard bomb for a touchdown. This put the Warriors up by 10 with only five minutes left in the game. Unfortunately for them, it took one pass to set the Wildcats up at the Hawaii 18-yard line. However, the Hawaii defense stiffened, eventually pushing the Wildcats back to the 20-yard line for a 38-yard field goal. As they lined, up the Hawaii fans were going crazy. It was so loud the Wildcats jumped offsides three times in a row. It was now a 53-yard field goal, but Arizona kicker Lucas Havrisik had ice in his veins and nailed the field goal. The Warriors received the kickoff, but could not kill the clock and punted the ball back to Arizona with 51 seconds left. Tate quickly moved the Wildcats to the Hawaii 31-yard line with ten seconds remaining. Not sure if Hawaii’s time out was smart or not, but it made for an exciting end of the game. Tate took the final snap, could not find anyone open, and took off for the end zone. Cutting and juking, he nearly made it until two Hawaii defenders tackled him at the one-yard line as time expired.

It was an amazing finish to a truly enjoyable game. It was one of the best finishes I have seen live. Even my wife had to admit the game was a lot of fun.

Personal Notes:

The Hawaii game day experience is fairly generic, without a lot of flash and promotion, or traditions. That’s not necessarily a bad thing either, especially when the on the field action is entertaining. The Rainbow Warriors delivered on that for sure. As for Oahu, it was fairly generic. The beaches can be really crowded, and we found the snorkeling to be average. Although, even on this heavily populated island, there are lots of cool sights further afield. There is also a lot of petty crime. Every place we visited had warning signs. While boogie boarding, our rental car was broken into and we had some clothing stolen. While it was not grand larceny, it was still a bummer. I did not care about the shorts and t-shirt, but I really did like that belt. It was at the tail end of the vacation, but it put a damper on the last couple of days.

Given all that, it is hard to give the Hawaii game experience a full endorsement. The game day experience is probably going to be good to great. However, with all the money you will spend to get there, it only makes sense to make it an extended vacation. Unfortunately, Waikiki is fairly touristy and is pretty dull after a couple of days watching tourists turn lobster red. If you want to explore the island further, the hassle of petty crime makes it somewhat unappealing. Even at the Pearl Harbor Memorial there are high crime warnings. I don’t understand why this is tolerated, especially when the economy is tourism based. At a minimum, I would be installing closed circuit cameras at the larger beach and trail parking lots to allow better monitoring and enforcement. It cannot be that expensive. If the crime gets addressed, I would say catching a Hawaii game is a no-brainer. Otherwise, I would only consider it if your team is there playing the Warriors. For me, it will take some strong incentives to get me to come back, but I will always remember that great game.

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