HONOLULU — The Aloha Bowl is alive and well and living on an island in the Pacific.
Despite its tumultuous beginning, its early losses, its battles with the long-established Pro Bowl and Hula Bowl for the island football fan, the fledgling Aloha Bowl prevails.
Asked if the Aloha Bowl was in any trouble, Bill Thompson, director of operations for the game, announced with a smile: "None whatsoever."
The Aloha Bowl game that UCLA and Florida will play on Christmas Day will be No. 6, and bowl officials are anxiously awaiting game day to see if this is the game that turns around the drop-off in ticket sales suffered the last two years.
Dick Fishback, executive director of the Aloha Bowl said: "Everybody seems to be worrying about how many tickets are sold at this point. But figures now would not take into consideration corporate tickets or season tickets . . . and right now we're ahead of where we were at this time last year. We're also expecting a heavy walk-up trade because we have such attractive teams this year."
Thompson said: "There were three things that we felt we had to do. We had to get a multi-year TV contract, and we got that, with ABC. We needed a title sponsor, and we got that, with the Eagle Division of Chrysler. And we felt we had to get two good teams, and we sure did that."
The Aloha Bowl has a two-year contract with ABC with an option for a third year. And the Bowl is getting what Fishback would only call "a hunk of money" for calling the game the Eagle Aloha Bowl.
UCLA, a nationally ranked team in a top TV market, going against a star-studded team from another strong conference from the opposite coast, gives the Aloha Bowl an attractive game for TV.
But, still, it won't fill Aloha Stadium to its capacity of just under 50,000. With its guarantee of $500,000 and its expenses for a huge traveling party, UCLA will just about break even. Bowl officials will hope to just about break even.
Fishback said: "It didn't make money last year, but it has a time or two . . . We're not giving up on it."
The biggest crowd the Aloha Bowl has ever drawn was 41,777 for the Southern Methodist-Notre Dame game in 1984. The next year, attendance dropped to 35,185 for Alabama vs. USC. The year after, it dropped again, to 23,743 for Arizona vs. North Carolina.
A columnist for the Honolulu Advertiser wondered if it wasn't time to say: "Aloha, bowl."
But Mackay Yanagisawa, who has been called the godfather of the Aloha Bowl, wasn't ready to quit. Yanagisawa has been scrapping for this game from the start.
The start of this bowl is hard to pinpoint. The University of Hawaii used to play what it called The Pineapple Bowl as its final regular-season game in the '30s and '40s. The last one was played in 1951.
In 1977 Bob Apisa, a former Michigan State football player, and Lawlor Reck, a military recreation director, each, separately, petitioned the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. for approval to hold a postseason football game in Hawaii and the race was on. At about the same time, Yanagisawa, who was the manager of Aloha Stadium and the originator and director of the Hula Bowl, a postseason college all-star game, joined forces with Ray Nagel, then the University of Hawaii athletic director (and a former Ram executive) to bring a postseason football game to Aloha Stadium.
Yanagisawa wanted another game in his stadium.
Nagel wanted to make the University of Hawaii more attractive to the Western Athletic Conference. The WAC was, at that time, about to lose Arizona State and Arizona to the Pacific 10, and the Fiesta Bowl was breaking its ties with the WAC. Nagel thought that Hawaii should join the WAC, and that the Islands should be the site of an annual bowl game with the WAC champion as host.
In order to get the game approved by the NCAA, all four joined together in 1978 to present one application. The Pineapple Bowl was approved by the NCAA in time for a game Dec. 25, 1979.
But there were more power struggles. Apisa and Reck were out, and so was Castle & Cook, the Pineapple sponsor. Nagel withdrew the application.
More than a year later, Nagel and Yanagisawa applied again and were approved, and changed the name to the Aloha Bowl.
Yanagisawa served as executive director through the formative years and even had to come up with an estimated $200,000 of his own money to keep the game alive. Now, at the age of 73, he is leaving most of the administrative duties to Fishback, the new executive director. But Yanagisawa is not out of the picture.
Yanagisawa has left the Hula Bowl and now concentrates his efforts on the Aloha Bowl.
Apisa, then a fullback, played against Terry Donahue in that game. The UCLA coach was a defensive tackle on the Bruin team that beat Michigan State, 14-12, on New Year's Day, 1966. "Tell Terry good luck in the Aloha Bowl," Apisa said. "I'm so glad that game is finally a reality. I take some pride in knowing I helped to make it happen."