Ain’t No Hall Without Samoan Sack Man

Al Noga doing what he did best: going after quarterbacks and ball carriers UNIVERISTY OF HAWAII ATHLETICS PHOTO

Al Noga doing what he did best: going after quarterbacks and ball carriers UNIVERISTY OF HAWAII ATHLETICS PHOTO

As the names ran singular across the screen at last week’s Polynesian Football Hall of Fame induction announcement, one couldn’t help but anticipate which name would appear next. Whether it’s baseball, the NFL or whomever Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner deems worthy of entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it’s natural to wonder who didn’t get in and why. That’s just part of the fun. We all want “our guy” to get in.

In only its second year of existence, it will likely take a decade before this particular hall of fame catches up with the legacy it recognizes. When asked about the inclusion of any number of players, selection committee member and KITV sports director Robert Kekaula just shrugged his shoulders. The big man wasn’t being coy for political purposes, he just didn’t know. Who could?

Polynesians have been playing football for a century-plus, and in that time hundreds, perhaps thousands have distinguished themselves to the point of consideration. Who they are, what they did and whether they’re Polynesian or not are all questions the Hall must answer.

Who knew that this year’s inductee Luther Elliss was Polynesian and Russ Francis was not?

In his own opinion, Kekaula said that each year he would like to nominate one person who made their contribution before his time, one during and one after. That’s as good of a system as any. As Kekaula gets older it will be ever easier to fit guys into the “after” category.

But while Luther Elliss, Jesse Sapolu (so obvious it’s almost silly), Ray Schoenke, Mosi Tatupu, Mark Tuinei and Russ

Francis (in as a contributor), are all worthy, one big, bad Samoan will have to wait just a bit longer.

Al Noga, to me, is the father of UH, and therefore, Polynesian football.

I’m not so daft to believe the university suited its first squad in 1986, but for me, just two years out of high school and born to smash-mouth Big Ten football, Noga was a revelation. They do play football in Hawaii, and they play it well — Noga better than most. Outside of World War II footage and reruns of The Brady Bunch, the ESPN tele-cast may have been my first glimpse of Hawaii and the university from which I would later graduate. Amid the already tired cliches ( … nestled among the beautiful Sandwich Islands …) the game featured the 7-5 Rainbows in their still-awesome green top and rainbow-striped white pants against No. 4 Michigan, led at quarterback by a not-yet nearly crazy Jim Harbaugh.

A heavily edited version of the game is available on YouTube.

Of all the players who flew around the field that day, and Hawaii had plenty (Amosa Amosa, Walter Briggs, Kyle Kafentzis, Brian Norwood, Joe Onosai), Noga, the school’s first Associated Press All-American, stood out.

At 6-feet-1 and weighing a respectable for his time 260 pounds, Noga was matched up against 6-foot-7, 307-pound Jumbo Elliot, himself a two-time All American.

The battle between Noga and Elliot was supposed to be mismatch, much like the game itself. Elliot, was bigger, stronger and had a pedigree, just like his school. Noga, and the Hawaii team, didn’t care.

Noga ran around, and sometimes through, Elliot, hitting running backs and the future 49ers head coach. The Rainbows didn’t back down. Michigan won 27-10, but it was never a blowout. The Wolverines’ final two scores came in the fourth quarter, one after Michigan punter Monte Robbins’s school record 82-yard punt pinned UH at its own 2-yard-line.

Al Noga is the reason I made the short walk from Pearl Harbor to Aloha Stadium during the Holiday Bowl season of 1992 to be introduced to yet another favorite, running back Travis Sims.

When asked specifically about Noga’s Hall of Fame induction time line, Kekaula just shrugged. The Hall may want to hurry, Al’s a busy man.

As Bob Hope said during his annual All-American special, “Right after the show, Al is hurrying back to Hawaii. They need him to plug up a volcano.”

The Samoan Sack Man deserves to be in the hall.