By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.
Blane Gaison’s football résumé is as long as it is impressive. As an All-State quarterback, he led Kamehameha-Kapalama to back-to-back Prep Bowl titles (1974 and 1975). At the University of Hawaii, he challenged for the starting QB job before switching to the defensive side of the ball, where he became an All-WAC free safety for the Rainbow Warriors and a recipient of the Stan Bates Award (given to the WAC’s top male scholar-athlete). In the NFL, Gaison played four seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, snaring 2 interceptions and recovering 3 fumbles (one for the 64-yard TD). In 1999, he was inducted into the UH Sports Circle of Honor.
To this day, Gaison is regarded as one of the best safeties in the history of Hawaii football. Yet, one of the most defining moments of his UH career occurred on Nov. 24, 1979. It was the night Gaison returned to his old quarterback position and, in front of 31,812 fans at Aloha Stadium, led the Rainbow Warriors to a storybook come-from-behind victory.
The opponent was conference rival Colorado State. Hawaii placekicker Jim Asmus’ 36-yard FG five minutes into the game gave the home team an early 3-0 lead, but the UH offense struggled for the remainder of the first half. The Rams, meanwhile, scored on a 7-yard run and a 50-yard FG to take a 10-3 lead into intermission.
UH head coach Dick Tomey was concerned. His starting QB, Mike Stennis, was sitting out the game with an injury. His backup, Steve Rakhshani, was largely ineffective in the first half. The Hawaii offense, even with talented backs Gary Allen and David Toloumu, could not move the ball.
With a 4-5 record with one more game to play, Hawaii still had a shot at a winning season. But to do that, they had to beat CSU.
In Tomey’s 2017 memoir, Rise of the Rainbow Warriors, Gaison recalls what happened next.
“As we were running into the locker room at halftime, Coach Tomey grabbed me by the arm, pulled me aside and said, ‘I need you to play quarterback.’ I looked at him and said, ‘Are you serious?’”
Tomey, of course, was absolutely serious. He needed Gaison’s leadership, savvy and toughness to fire up the offense.
”I said, ‘Okay,’” Gaison recalled with a smile. “That was it. You just did what Coach wanted you to do, no questions asked. We drew up about three or four plays in the locker room, and we ran those plays in the second half.”
The home crowd was buzzing at the sight of Gaison taking practice snaps on the sideline before the start of the second half. No one had expected this. (After the game, Gaison’s parents walked up to him and asked, “What happened?”)
All Gaison did in the second half was lead Hawaii on scoring drives of 71, 81 and 25 yards. He only had 4 pass attempts, connecting on 2 for 31 yards. But he also had 8 carries for 78 yards. “More than anything,” Tomey would write nearly 40 years later, “Blane gave us great leadership.”
Final score: Hawaii 24, Colorado State 10.
After the game, Gaison rightfully gave credit to his teammates. Allen scampered for 106 yards and a TD. Toloumu ran for a pair of scores. On defense, outside linebacker Andrew Moody forced a CSU fumble and recovered the ball himself to initiate Hawaii’s final scoring drive. And inside linebacker Steve Lehor contributed 14 tackles and became the first UH player to amass more than 100 tackles in a season. And cornerback Keoni Jardine tied the school record by snatching his 11th career interception.
Said Gaison, “I enjoyed myself. I enjoyed myself because the guys wanted it. They made me feel comfortable and came out firing in the second half.”
There would be more to come: Gaison was named the starting QB for the next game, the season finale against Arizona State. Hawaii would win that game to go 6-5 on the year.
# # #