With the possible exception of a few insomniacs who caught his act on the late-late show, football fans on the East Coast remain mostly unfamiliar with Colt Brennan, the recordbreaking quarterback for the University of Hawaii.
What, you say Brennan finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting and was invited to New York earlier this month along with Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel and the winner, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow? Doesn't that indicate that mainland America finally has been properly introduced to the mystery man with the golden arm from luau land?
Not really. What it means is that Brennan benefited from positive word-of-mouth that drifted, ever so slowly, across the Pacific Ocean on gentle tradewinds. Some Heisman voters who listed Brennan on their ballots might have done so without actually seeing him play, which is understandable given that what little exposure the Warriors receive on national television usually comes in games that don't kick off until nearly midnight in the East and conclude in the wee hours of the next day.
Even if you didn't see any of Brennan's 131 career touchdown passes, which broke the mark of 121 set by Brigham Young's Ty Detmer from 1988-91, the sheer weight of his statistics make him college football's most famous phantom and a trendy pick for postseason awards.
Then again, there are skeptics who at least have seen highlight clips of Brennan shredding pass defenses, yet refuse to believe their own eyes because, well, he plays for a school from a non-BCS conference stashed somewhere out there among palm trees, pineapples and grass skirts. Timmy Chang, now a member of the Canadian Football League's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, threw 117 touchdown passes at Hawaii a few years ago, but he never even made it onto an NFL regular-season roster.
Hawaii coach June Jones had Chang, and Jones worked with Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon when he was offensive coordinator of the NFL's Houston Oilers. Jones calls Brennan the "best passer in college football history," a claim the 6-3, 195-pound touchdown machine will attempt to justify on Jan. 1 when No. 10 Hawaii (12-0) takes on No. 4 Georgia (10-2), of the mighty Southeastern Conference, in the Sugar Bowl. It's David vs. Goliath again, with Brennan wielding the slingshot.
In one such matchup last season, Boise State - from the Western Athletic Conference, as is Hawaii - shocked Oklahoma, 43-42, in overtime in the Fiesta Bowl, successfully executing all manner of trick plays, including a Statue of Liberty for the winning two-point conversion.
"I have to give it to Boise State," Brennan said. "What they did last year gave us a great opportunity to go to a BCS bowl this year. And don't forget what Utah did a few years before that. It made people realize that it's all right to give the little guy a chance.
"Good football is being played in conferences like the WAC. I think if a team like ours does well enough, we should be given a chance to compete against the big boys. We're not just happy to be going to the Sugar Bowl. We're looking to go there and win."
Georgia might be the biggest big boy that Hawaii has ever faced, but the most compelling story lines all wrap around Brennan, the former high school backup who bounced around from school to school before finally winding up in paradise as a walk-on.
The ABC telecast is sure to mention, among other things, that Brennan, a communications major, calls his audibles in Samoan.
"There's a language requirement at our university," said Brennan, a native of Laguna Beach, Calif. "We have a lot of Samoan kids on our team so I figure, why not learn their language? It was a way to learn something new and to have fun. When I speak Samoan on the field, it's kind of cool. I think my teammates respect me more for taking the time to learn about their language and culture."
In 2006, when he set NCAA records by passing for 5,549 yards and 58 touchdowns, Brennan grew his hair out and wore it in dreadlocks as another sign of unity with some of his teammates.
Someone noted that Brennan might be the most recognizable representative of Hawaii since "Hawaii Five-O" and "Magnum, P.I." were weekly TV series.
"That's so funny!" he exclaimed. "When my dad [Terry] was 30 years old, he looked exactly like Thomas Magnum. The first thing my mom [Betsy] said before she brought my dad home to meet her family was, 'Thomas Magnum is coming over tonight.' My dad still has the mustache."
Brennan's bilingual playcalling, adventures in hairstyles and his father's mustache will not matter much if he doesn't produce on the field.
Brennan's path to the top hasn't been smooth and straight. He backed up Matt Leinart, who went on to win the Heisman Trophy at USC, at Mater Dei High School in Laguna Beach. From there he spent a year at Worcester (Mass.) Academy before walking on at Colorado. But he never threw a pass for the Buffaloes.
On Jan. 28, 2004, an intoxicated Brennan entered the room of a Colorado coed, exposed himself and fondled the girl. He pleaded guilty to burglary and trespassing, but a guilty verdict for unlawful sexual contact was vacated for lack of evidence. Still, he was booted from the team.
Where else but Hawaii could a vagabond with such heavy baggage land?
Jones could relate. He, too, had bounced around as a college quarterback, logging time at Oregon, Hawaii and finally Portland State, where he was introduced to the run-and-shoot offense by coach Mouse Davis. Perhaps Jones identified with Brennan, or more likely he simply realized that the kid with a checkered past was more accurate than a Swiss watch.
Pairing Jones, who has made Davis' once-radical passing offense his life's work, with Brennan, who could make all the throws, transformed Hawaii into something more than a curiosity.
"Hawaii was on Michigan's schedule, but Michigan backed out of the contract and took Appalachian State instead. So how did that work out?" said Scott Tinsley, quarterback of the Eagles' 1987 replacement team who is a longtime friend of the Brennan family.
"Last year, when Purdue played Hawaii after Thanksgiving, their coach [Joe Tiller] was bellyaching about having to travel so far in December, about how it was hurting his recruiting," Tinsley said. "Basically, he said playing Hawaii was a pain in the butt. But one of the columnists in Honolulu got it right. He wrote that teams from the mainland were lining up 4 or 5 years ago to go to Hawaii and lay a butt-whipping on those island boys. They were there to lay on the beach, sip Mai-tais and, basically, have a vacation.
"Now that Hawaii is a threat, none of the BCS teams want to play them. And what Colt Brennan has done the last few seasons is a big reason for that."
Tinsley said Brennan might not be taken in the first round of the NFL draft because of concerns that, at 6-3 and 195 pounds, he is "too light in the [butt]."
"Some pro teams put too much emphasis on scales and stopwatches," Tinsley said. "You have guys who can run fast for 40 yards in shorts, but what about with pads on? Sometimes you just have to go by what you see. Forget his stats or how much he weighs. Colt Brennan can flat-out play. That's all that counts, or should count." *