Cursed by Pele? Distracted by the beach? How to explain Bulldogs’ Hawaii Bowl hex

Did someone in Fresno State gear do something to anger Pele, the Hawaiian fire goddess?

Maybe a member of the traveling party packed a rock from a volcano into their suitcase. That would be one sure way. Or filled up a jar with sand from Waikiki Beach and took it back to the mainland.

There must be some logical explanation for why the Bulldogs act so cursed every time they play a bowl game in the islands.

The supporting evidence doesn’t even require a history lesson. Just three years ago, 2014, Fresno State played Rice in the Hawaii Bowl and got fried 30-6. Two years before that, 2012, the Bulldogs were DOA against SMU 43-10, even with Derek Carr at quarterback.

Going back a little farther – and why not because it’s fun – we arrive at the 1993 Aloha Bowl. Fresno State got buffaloed 41-30 by Colorado despite Trent Dilfer throwing for 523 yards in his final college game.

trent dilfer
Fresno State’s Trent Dilfer threw for 523 yards in his final college football game, a 41-30 loss to Colorado in the 1993 Aloha Bowl. KURT HEGRE Fresno Bee file

Who was calling plays for the Bulldogs on that fateful Christmas Day? (Yes, the bowl used to be on the 25th rather than Christmas Eve.)

None other than current head coach Jeff Tedford.

Uh oh. Whoever’s responsible better mail that ill-begotten souvenir back to the island it came from, post haste.

As far as curses go, it’s certainly a selective one. Fresno State has won five straight regular-season games at Aloha Stadium. Even in years when the Bulldogs were lousy like in 2011 and ’15, they flew home victorious.

It’s bowl games against other mainland teams that has them hexed.

Of course there’s a big difference between visiting Hawaii during the regular season than bowl season. When Fresno State travels there to play the Rainbow Warriors, it’s a two-day business trip. The team might do a little sightseeing – players and coaches toured Pearl Harbor in November – but other distractions are kept to a minimum.

Bowl trips aren’t like that, nor should they be. This is a reward, after all. The Bulldogs flew to Honolulu five days in advance, giving them ample time to visit world-famous Waikiki Beach just outside the team hotel. The itinerary also includes trips to a water park and Dave & Buster’s, a luau, a banquet and a charity hospital visit.

And, oh yeah, practice. They still have to practice and prepare for Saturday’s game. Can’t forget about that. The man in charge certainly hasn’t.

“We’ll make sure they’re focused on the game and not on everything else,” Tedford says. “They’ll have time to relax and have fun, but it’ll also be a lot of grinding.”

Through past experiences, as offensive coordinator under Jim Sweeney in ’93 and Oregon in ’98, Tedford is well-aware of the unique challenges and situations that can occur. Like the time one of his tight ends neglected to apply sunscreen to a body part that didn’t get much sun.

“He got blisters on both feet because he went barefoot on the beach. Couldn’t practice for three days,” Tedford says. “Then there have been accidents from guys riding around on scooters.”

Did the Bulldogs have a little too much fun on recent bowl trips, as the final scores would seem to indicate?

Travis Brown, a senior linebacker on the 2012 squad and current defensive quality control coach, doesn’t think so.

“I’m not going to say we didn’t have fun out there, but we weren’t crazy or anything like that.“We were focused. We wanted to get that W. We were all in on that.”

SMU running back Zach Line splits Fresno State defensive back Derron Smith (13) and linebacker Tristan Okpalaugo on a run in the 2012 Hawaii Bowl. Eugene Tanner Associated Press

Still, though, there are regrets. Brown recalls that “a good amount” of the defense went snorkeling a couple days before the game and now questions the unnecessary energy expenditure.

And that’s not his only prickly recollection.

“I stepped on a (sea) urchin, had a pretty good little gash between my toes. It’s not a big deal, but it’s one of those things you’re thinking about ‘this thing hurts’ during a game. Little things like that. It’s Hawaii.”

Was a little gash the biggest reason for SMU’s romp? Uh, no. That honor belonged to 6-foot-8 defensive end Margus Hunt, who recorded two of the Mustangs’ seven sacks on Carr. One resulted in a safety, the other caused a fumble.

“He won the game,” Brown said of Hunt, currently in his fifth NFL season, “and we definitely boosted his draft stock.”

Twenty current Bulldogs were on the travel roster for the 2014 Hawaii Bowl, but only five played in the game. One of the five, senior receiver Da’Mari Scott, pledges to use that experience wisely.

“I’ll try to keep the guys focused,” Scott says. “We’ll get a little more each day. And I know Coach Tedford, he’s going to prepare and make sure we’re locked in and ready to go.”

Scott doesn’t believe in curses, and apparently neither does Brown, who doesn’t have to worry about being locked in or expending energy now that he’s up in the coaches box instead of wearing a uniform.

“I might go snorkeling,” he said with a laugh.

Marek Warszawski: 559-441-6218, @MarekTheBee

Hawaii Bowl


Sunday: 5:30 p.m. at Aloha Stadium (50,000) in Honolulu

Records: Bulldogs 9-4, 7-1 Mountain West; Cougars 7-4, 5-3 American Athletic

TV/radio: ESPN/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600).

Of note: The Bulldogs make a third trip to the Hawaii Bowl since 2012, having lost to Southern Methodist in 2012 and Rice in 2014. Houston is a bigger challenge. The Cougars opened with a road victory against a Power 5 team (Arizona). Houston has the Outland Trophy winner in defensive tackle Ed Oliver (14.5 tackles for loss; 5.5 sacks). A big-play offense is led by D’Eriq King, who in the past three games has completed 73 percent of his passes for 832 yards with four touchdowns and one interception, averaging 11.2 yards per pass attempt.

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