Thursday, July 08, 2010

Retrospective (#2)

#2 Tulane 36; Hawai’i 28 (December 25, 2002)
Hawai’i Bowl

The 2002 team got off to a rough start- which had emptied the Dome and moved this good Green Wave team off the alumni and student radar. However, a late season surge (5-2) coupled with a smashing home win over USM (see #3), rekindled fan interest and set up a rare Bowl tilt with a fun Hawai’i team.

June Jones’ Warriors were no joke either. The Warriors were 10-3. The three losses were to Alabama, BYU and Boise State. Charismatic Timmy Chang was prepping for a CFL career by putting up explosive numbers: completed 1,388 of 2,436 passes (57.0 percent) for 17,072 yards, breaking the records for completions, attempts (both held by Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech) and 15,031 yards (Ty Detmer, BYU).

So we all pushed away from our Christmas dinners as two TD underdog, watched the Wave recover an opening on-side kick, then "seemingly" do nothing for a half. Until this:

Then, it turned out they had not seemingly done nothing in the first half. Committed to keeping Chang chained to the bench, the Wave committed to running the football- eventually winning the TOP battle with this super Warrior offense. Tulane didn’t run it well, but 44 carries for 144 yards show an uncharacteristic determination to stick with it.

And eventually Hawai’i, on both sides of the ball, broke under the physical demands. The running game gave JP Losman time and room to throw, Mwelde Moore ripped off a 25 yard scoring run- and the Wave generated the necessary points. The defense was fresh for once. Helped by two key injuries on the Hawaii o-line, Tulane shut down the run and really got after the quarterback. Chang was knocked out of the game. Then add in Tulane’s best special teams’ effort probably ever: two big Elpheage returns leading to scores, the punter (Brad Hill?) had a great game, recovering the on-side kick (taking an early possession away from Chang).

Losing, faced with a rolling clock, and a back-up quarterback… Hawai’i could not overcome- and the 2002 Hawai’i Bowl goes into Tulane lore as the program’s biggest Bowl upset.

It was Chris Scelfo’s crowning achievement: his players, his system, etc. The Bowden hangover was gone- and there was not insignificant buzz about him leaving to go to Marshall (#23 in the country in 2002) or being groomed for the future Georgia job. As a season’s body of work, particularly with the late horrid home Army loss, no one could justify the Wave as a top 25 candidate. But they were probably just short of receiving votes. I mean, Hawai’i did in the final AP poll. Tulane was a real top 40 national team with NFL level talent littering the offense and defense.

Further, this win arguably really helped save the program during the ignominious university review to kill the program. Certainly the Hawai'i Bowl was in the “for football category”. The victory, so soon before the review, meant no one could argue that football was a hopeless on-field endeavor- and even casual alumni struggled to understand the imperative to shut down something that seemed to work. Tulane was coming off a six year period now where it had won more than it had lost- and had two glittering Bowl trophies to show for its dollars and efforts. I don’t think the program was ever as close to being shut down as popular opinion suggests- but without the Hawai’i Bowl it would have been a lot nearer thing. To make this list, games had to be entertaining, of relevance and of future impact. This game had all three.