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Oct. 24—Saturday was the real homecoming for University of Hawaii football this season.
Well, at least it was for nearly a thousand of the Rainbow Warriors' closest friends and family, who also honored the program's most beloved player. Colt Brennan's number 15 was officially retired at halftime of UH's 48-34 victory over New Mexico State.
The atmosphere was unlike anything anyone had ever seen at a football game, and not because of the rarity of a same-season rematch between two teams.
The truly unique situation was in the stands of the Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex, which was dotted with clusters of fans in each of the stadium's four grandstands.
This was the Warriors' fourth game at their new on-campus football stadium, but the first where any ticketed spectators were allowed. State and city and county emergency orders related to the coronavirus resulted in zero attendance at the first three home games, including the Warriors' homecoming upset of Fresno State three weeks ago.
"There's no question it's unprecedented. For the past 18 months (since UH sports were halted because of the pandemic ) everything has been unprecedented, " UH athletic director David Matlin said.—PHOTOS :—RELATED :—RELATED :
Last spring, UH did do something somewhat similar, at least in concept. At the end of the 2020-21 academic /athletic year, a few family and friends of the baseball program were allowed to attend the Rainbows' final series of the season. But that was before another wave of coronavirus filled Hawaii hospital beds in September, and officials limited gatherings in fear of a superspreader event.
Even before the mandates that started in late August in anticipation of the delta variant, Matlin faced the impossible task of fitting around 15, 000 season-ticket holders into the on-campus facility, which now can seat 9, 000. Before this fall, UH played its home games at 50, 000-seat Aloha Stadium. Aloha Stadium no longer allows spectators because of safety issues stemming from the age of the venue that opened in 1975.
So, the reopening started Saturday with UH staff checking to make sure the invited guests had signed up on the Lumisight app on their phones to verify their vaccination status, they were masked and that they had their electronic tickets. Teri Chang, UH's assistant athletic director in charge of facilities, and her staff executed a plan that ensured fans would be spread out as they entered and exited the stadium. A help station assisted the few invitees who did not have phones, or who needed directions or other assistance.
"It was pretty much all hands on deck, " Matlin said.
Fans trickled in slowly from when the gates opened at 4 p.m., two hours before kickoff.
Elementary education sophomore Juliana Kindell from Denver was one of 50 students who won an online lottery for a pair of tickets. She and her friend Olivia Branum, a sophomore from Greenwood, Ark., majoring in Korean language, were the first students to go through the turnstiles.
"I was very surprised, didn't think I'd win, " Kindell said. "I'm even more excited because my high school didn't have a team and this is the first football game I've ever been to. A lot of people were trying to buy tickets on Instagram, but I was totally down with going to the game."
The UH sports marketing department was out in force, with promotions including T-shirt giveaways and contestants trying to complete a pass to former UH star and NFL receiver Greg Salas.
Also, Brennan's career was celebrated. Brennan, who led the Warriors to the 2008 Sugar Bowl and was third in the 2007 Heisman Trophy voting, died in May.
About one-third of the thousand attendees were family and friends of UH football players. Some of them came from as far as Texas.
Kanyatta Edwards, the mother of junior receiver Tru Edwards, usually lives in Midlothian, Texas, near Dallas. But, since May 31, Kanyatta has resided a couple of blocks from the Manoa campus—with the idea of attending Tru's home games.
"I moved here to do just that, and I'm right across the street, " she said. "I definitely understand the health issues because of the virus. But a mother's got to be there."
Her months of frustration as proposals for at least family members to attend games were rejected by the state finally gave way to relief Saturday. Joyce Guillory, who is Tru's grandmother and Kanyatta's mother, traveled to Hawaii to attend this game, too.
"There's excitement, being able to be in the stands and support the Warriors, is strong, " Kanyatta said at halftime. "Also, the atmosphere is filled with sorrow honoring Colt Brennan."
Kanyatta's husband and Tru's father is Troy Edwards, the retired NFL receiver and first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers who still holds the college single-game record of 405 receiving yards from when he was at LaTech. He was not at Saturday's game, but did meet up with his wife and son at last month's New Mexico State game in Las Cruces.
"My kids can adapt to anything, " Troy said. "I'd rather not mess with my son's career."
Kanyatta and Troy said they became close friends in Pittsburgh and Jacksonville with Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala and Vince Manuwai, teammates of Troy's from Hawaii. Manuwai died in 2018, but Fuamatu-Ma'afala returned home to Oahu after his NFL career.
"Tru knows he has an uncle there, " Troy said.
Kent Youel of Kailua was among the approximately 310 longtime season-ticket holders invited to attend Saturday's game.
Youel, 73, has purchased at least four and as many as 10 season tickets for football, and also season tickets for men's basketball and women's volleyball, since the 1990s, and has also supported other UH teams at various times, including women's golf and basketball and men's volleyball.
"I always get at least four, so we can take another couple with the hope that maybe they'll buy season tickets, too, " Youel said.
He learned last week that he was among those invited.
"We were thrilled, " said Youel, who was accompanied by his wife, Dora. "I've been a big donor for quite a while, so I thought we had a chance, but wasn't sure."
Season-ticket holders were chosen based on how much they have contributed to the program over the years, a UH official said.
"We're excited and hope that more fans will be allowed to come to the last two (home ) games, " Youel said. "I hope they spread the wealth around. There are different people who care more about different sports, and I don't want to be greedy."
He said he's confident with UH's safety protocols.
"I feel real comfortable about going, " Youel said Friday. "At our age stuff happens and we're more vulnerable. We stay pretty hunkered down.
But we feel safe about going to the game."—For more Hawaii football, visit the.