HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Rainbow Warriors are getting ready to face Houston in the New Mexico Bowl — their third mainland bowl in school history.
Most years when UH is bowl eligible, they are sent to the Hawaii Bowl, but with that game cancelled because of the pandemic and the ‘Bows 2020 bowl eligibility, the bowl commission invited Hawaii back to the continent for the first time since 2003.
The 2003 Sugar Bowl was the last time the home team was on the national stage, but with an unfavorable outcome.
However, UH’s first and only bowl victory came in the 1992 Holiday Bowl, where current defensive coordinator Victor Santa Cruz was a linebacker for that championship squad.
“We had let the nation know the strength, the power, the love that Hawaii football is.” Coach Santa Cruz told reporters. “Those are one of those memories, for me as a player, it still gives me great pride because I remember the beginning of that whole bowl week and then that bowl game I felt slighted in the respect that they had for us or disrespect that they had for us, so for us to go and take that victory and show them just how serious we are about football, saying hey were a force to be reckoned with, that meant a lot to me and it meant a lot to that team.”
Fast forward to 2020 and the ‘Bows “War Dog” defense is looking to stifle a Houston offense that averaged 32.29 points per game this season, treating Thursday like a heavyweight boxing match.
“They’re bringing a system to the table come Christmas Eve, that we’ve got to be ready for and dialed in, so it’s going to be a heck of a game, I know its a four quarter game, our guys have to come out of the tunnel and just keep swinging.” Santa Cruz said. “When that bell rings you better come out swinging right away because it’s going to be a four quarter deal and you’ve got to keep rolling.”
Santa Cruz understands the importance of their Christmas Eve bowl match up, reflecting on his own experience at the Holiday Bowl all of those years ago.
“You know this is only the third time the University of Hawaii has been represented in a bowl game in the mainland and to be able to know what that felt like, the first time, when coach (Bob) Wagner expressed to us that this is the first time.” Santa Cruz said. “So when we get the chance to come on the road in the middle of Texas and being the only game on air on Christmas Eve, that’s a tremendous amount of pride, what an opportunity.”
Santa Cruz even considers Thursday as history in the making.
“That’s a rare distinctive opportunity, so we don’t want to let the moment be too big, but understand that this is one of those great moments that as a coach, as a player, as a program you want to be a part of.” Santa Cruz said. “So I can’t help but have tremendous pride in knowing we get a part of this history-making day.”
The Rainbow Warriors make history Christmas Eve at 10:30 a.m. Hawaii time on ESPN.