Daily Archives: 26 August 2007

Polynesian Languages: Useful for American Football QBs

I don’t have much interest in American football. I grew up paying more attention to baseball and sumo. But an intriguing off-topic comment by football fan BitterOldPunk in a thread on Language Hat pointed me to a story in today’s New York Times about a remarkable quarterback on the University of Hawai‘i football team.

HONOLULU — After every home game, Colt Brennan waves to his probation officer as he leaves Aloha Stadium….

Brennan, Hawaii’s star quarterback, is on the cusp of what could be a transcendent season in his senior year. He is projected to make a run at the Heisman Trophy, and his coach insists that he will be the first quarterback selected in the N.F.L. draft. His strong right arm, combined with a soft schedule, have people around college football’s most remote program believing that Hawaii’s chances of making a Boise State-like run to a Bowl Championship Series game are, well, not remote.

Those possibilities, for the player and for the team, are even more noteworthy considering the improbable, circuitous road that Brennan, 24, took to Hawaii.

Brennan backed up Matt Leinart in high school in Southern California, went 3,000 miles to a prep school in Massachusetts and was the fourth-string quarterback at Colorado as a walk-on before being arrested and thrown off the team. He then spent spring break in a Colorado jail during a year in junior college and landed at Hawaii only because a reporter showed an assistant coach there a film of one of Brennan’s junior college receivers.

The final twists in Brennan’s rise toward stardom and redemption may be the most compelling of all, however. If not for the anonymity of being a backup, the uncertainty of chasing a scholarship and the humiliation of wearing an orange jumpsuit, he probably would not have the thrill of a Heisman chase, the allure of being a possible first-round pick or the recipient of the affection of an entire state.

“The consensus between myself and Colt’s high school coaches is that Colt is the person he is today and the quarterback he is today because of the path he took,” said Dan Morrison, Hawaii’s quarterbacks coach. “I firmly believe he is who he is today because of the road he traveled.”

It’s a fine story of personal redemption and of those who had faith in him, but the bit that got notice on Language Hat was the following.

Soon after Brennan arrived, in the summer of 2005, Morrison, the quarterbacks coach, advised him that the culture of the island valued humility and character. Having spent spring break in jail that year, Brennan hardly needed a humility check.

“I had gone through a real embarrassing time in my life,” Brennan said. “I was humiliated and I needed to go find myself somewhere else. Hawaii had that appeal to it. It was my getaway, my escape.”

So he kept his mouth shut and did his best to blend in. He took three semesters of Samoan as a way to bond with his offensive linemen, all of whom are of Polynesian descent. (Morrison beamed when telling of Brennan calling an audible in Samoan last year.)

I suspect that Brennan has also learned a bit of New Zealand Māori, because Hawai‘i is one of a growing number of American football teams that psyche themselves up (and psyche their opponents out) before games by performing Māori-style haka, first introduced into international sports by New Zealand’s famed All-Blacks.

The blog A Nice Gesture has quite a compilation of commentary and video of haka being performed by, among others, New Zealand’s Tall Blacks before a basketball game against Argentina, and a whole range of American football teams from Hawai‘i to Utah to Texas.

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Filed under Hawai'i, language, Polynesia, U.S.