By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.
When it first opened to the public in 1975, Aloha Stadium was regarded as the premier state-of-art venue in the Pacific. Not quite 50 years later, the the facility is broken down, rusted and destined for a date with a wrecking ball as early as late next year. Still, we can look back at Aloha Stadium and fondly recall its better days. Here are 15 cool and interesting tidbits about the stadium:
(Note: Much of the information below was gleaned from an excellent Honolulu Star-Advertiser report from Nov. 23, 2014, written by Ferd Lewis.)
♦ The idea to build a new stadium originated after Hawaii achieved statehood in 1959. The original Honolulu Stadium, built in 1926, was showing its age. In 1965, a local fire marshal told a state senate committee that the old stadium had become a firetrap and should have been closed a decade earlier.
♦ Possible locations for the new stadium included Sand Island, the UH-Manoa Quarry, McKinley High School and Diamond Head Crater. Even a concept of a 40,000-seat “floating stadium” was discussed.
♦ The groundbreaking for the new stadium took place in 1971. A group of protestors spoke out against the 80-acre Halawa project, as it’s construction necessitated the displacement of about 80 families. Someone at the protest reportedly placed a curse on the stadium project. Two years later, a worker was killed after falling from the stands, prompting other workers to walk off the job. Construction was also delayed by a lengthy labor strike, bad weather, and numerous changes and legal challenges.
♦ As the stadium was still being constructed, there was a debate on what the facility would be called. Besides “Aloha Stadium,” suggestions included “Aloha Bowl,” “Kamehameha Stadium,” “Hibiscus Bowl,” “Poi Bowl,” “Hula Bowl,” “Paradise Stadium,” “Rainbow Stadium” and, in a nod to its beloved predecessor, “Honolulu Stadium.” There were also rumblings that some local politicians wanted to name the stadium after the late Governor John A. Burns, who championed for the building of the venue. On April 28, 1975, the Stadium Authority officially settled on “Aloha Stadium.”
♦ The first general manager of Aloha Stadium was Mackay Yanagisawa, the legendary sports promoter who founded the Hula Bowl and later helped organize the Aloha Bowl. He was also manager of the old Honolulu Stadium for nearly 20 years. Known as the “Shogan” of Hawaii Sports Yanagisawa was inducted into the UH Sports Circle of Honor in 1987 and the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.
♦ The stadium made its official debut the night of Sept. 13, 1975. An estimated 35,000 people attended the University of Hawaii football season opener against Texas A&I, an NAIA power. (The school is now known as Texas A&M-Kingsville and competes at the Division II level.) The Javelinas spoiled the opening night festivities by beating the Rainbow Warriors, 43-9.
♦ Who was the first person to sing the National Anthem and “Hawaii Pono‘i” at Aloha Stadium? Answer: It was Hawaii’s own “Ambassador of Aloha,” Danny Kaleikini.
♦ Officially, the first-ever points scored at the Stadium was a 2-yard TD run by A&I fullback George Franklin in the game’s opening quarter. (Franklin would go on to be drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the second-round of the 1977 NFL Draft. The next season, he played for the Atlanta Falcons as a kick returner.) The first points by a Hawaii player at Aloha Stadium was a 2-yard run by QB Alex Kaloi in the third quarter of the game,
♦ UH football ticket prices that season: $7 and $6 for reserved seats, $5 for general admission. In addition, 65 cents could get you a hot dog or saimin; popcorn, peanuts and potato chips were 30 cents a bag; a large soft drink was 50 cents; and a 22-oz. cup of Primo Beer was $1 ($1.20 for Olympia Beer).
♦ The very next night, The Hawaiians hosted the Jacksonville Express in a World Football League game – the first pro football game ever played at the Stadium. The home team prevailed, 33-15. Former Washington Husky QB and Sports Illustrated cover boy Sonny Sixkiller, making his first start in a football game in three years, passed for three TDs to lead The Hawaiians. (The Native American star played the role of “Indian” in the 1974 Burt Reynolds film, The Longest Yard.) The Hawaiians also featured a number of homegrown players, including former Rainbow Warriors Levi Stanley, Hal Stringert and Jim Kalili, and ex-Kamehameha Star Karl Lorch.
♦ The first high school team to win a game at Aloha Stadium was Damien, which beat Iolani, 28-15, on Sept. 19. That game was part of an ILH tripleheader at the stadium. In the other contests, Kamehameha shut out Pac-Five, 26-0, and Saint Louis routed Punahou, 21-0. Later in the year, Kaiser High School would also play at the stadium. The Cougars were then led by senior QB Scott Chan, who is today the manager of Aloha Stadium.
♦ On April 7, 1976, soccer superstar Pele and the New York Cosmos beat a team from Japan at the stadium. The match drew more than 21,000 attendees.
♦ In May 1976, the Triple-A Hawaii Islanders hosted the Tacoma Twins. Aloha Stadium management, however, would not let the visiting team wear metal spikes on the AstroTurf field. When the Twins insisted on using them (due to a directive from the parent club), the stadium management turned off the centerfield lights. Thirty-five minutes later, with no resolution in sight, the game umpires awarded the game to Tacoma via forfeit.
♦ On Aug. 21, 1976, the San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers played a preseason game at the stadium. More than 36,000 fans looked on as the Niners drilled a 38-yard field goal on the game’s final play to win, 17-16. San Francisco was quarterbacked by former Heisman Trophy winner and future two-time Super Bowl champion Jim Plunkett, while the Chargers featured defensive stars Fred Dean and Louie Kelcher.
♦ The first sellout at Aloha Stadium took place on Dec. 2, 1978, when the UH football team hosted the USC Trojans. In front of 48,767 raucous fans, the Rainbow Warriors went toe-for-toe with the eventual national champions before faltering late in the fourth quarter. USC prevailed, 21-5.