On a sundrenched early afternoon in Sydney, College Football made a fitting return to Australian soil in front of 61,247 spectators.
If only to set the scene with a sprinkling of inspiration for the California and Hawaii players taking the field, ANZ Stadium blasted out Al Pacino’s speech from Any Given Sunday minutes before kick off.
The production is simply bigger and better than anything the NRL or AFL could stump up. Alongside a rambunctious marching band, blown up mascot entrance, colourful cheerleaders and a crowd that was there for a spectacle as much as a sporting fixture – the scene was set.
Following a stirring rendition of the American National Anthem that was respectfully observed by the Australian crowd, the game was ready to go.
Hawaii could not have asked for a worst start, attempting a short kick off that only made it to the 48-yard line without evening gaining possession back.
That gave the Bears ample opportunity and despite a shaky couple of plays, Khalfani Muhammad was put in acres of space to score the opening touchdown on their first drive. The signs looked ominous – 7-0 with only a handful of minutes registered on the clock.
Cameron Walker’s interception off a poor Ikaika Woolsey pass made things worse for Hawaii – gifting them back the pig skin after a promising build up.
It would be Marcus Kemp saving the Rainbow Warriors blushes though, making the most of a decent pass to beat three tackles to burst down the touchline to make it 7-7.
With barely 5 minutes left in the opening quarter, Davis Webb shirked off some poor passes to find Chad Hansen in the corner to ensure the favourites retook the lead. 14-7 and the Bears looked like they were finding their mojo.
Yet the Rainbow Warriors had a trick up their sleeve. Covering the offensive line, Diocemy Saint Juste burst through the pack to make a dash close to 40 yards to level the scores at 14 a piece.
Kicker Matt Anderson knocked over a field goal for the Bears to make it 11 straight for the special teams man and 16 out of 17 in California colours.
The second quarter began with a number of missed chances and opportunities. Hawaii went inches within grabbing a touchdown while California were sloppy on their punt returns.
A lull in play turned attentions to the giant hot dogs in the stands, kiss cam, dance cam and banter between traveling American fans and journalists.
One unnamed Hawaii official believed their defensive unit “sucked” while the offence had a lot of untapped potential, make of that what you will Warriors fans.
As the minutes of the opening half wound down, Anderson took another field goal to make it 12 straight to give the Bears a 20-14 advantage.
Hawaii shot themselves in the foot moments later with a fumble off the punt return, gifting the ball to Chad Hansen who could not believe his luck to go over for his second touchdown. 27-14 and the task was become harder for Hawaii.
After driving up field, Davis Webb went solo following a few missed passes – running into the end zone to make it 34-14 at halftime and effectively end the contest.
The half time show was a unique spectacle. A local posse of brightly red dressed break dancers were joined by acrobats and jumping kangaroo mascots, just to ensure fans knew they were watching the game in Australia.
If that wasn’t enough to keep people interested, Hawaii fan Benji proposed to his girlfriend Emma on the field. Lucky for him in front of tens of thousands of witnesses, she said yes.
The second half began as news leaked through Twitter that the beer had run out at ANZ Stadium. With fans up in arms, the show had to go on via JD and cokes.
Hawaii came out firing, dropping the ball over the end zone but pinning the Bears deep inside their own territory. Place kicker Sanchez had little trouble as he closed the gap to 34-17 off the boot.
A great drive by the Bears was topped off when Webb found Melquise Stovall in acres of space in the end zone. At 41-17 American Sports News had hit the prediction score right, but with 8 minutes to play in the 3rd quarter alone that would be wishful thinking.
The superbly named Steven Lakalaka put paid to that – bursting through Cali’s defence for a great touchdown as the Bears had a lapse in concentration. At 41-24 Hawaii were at least saving face through sustained passages of pressure.
The final quarter kicked off with one of the best Mexican waves seen on Australian shores for some time – doing at least 6 laps before it made way for the football.
Running back Saint Juste put some pride back into the Rainbow Warriors jersey, bursting through a few tackles to keep the California defence honest.
As Webb tried his luck 20 yards out from Hawaii’s end zone, he almost threw a costly interception in the end zone until Rojesterman Farris II coughed it up.
Muhammad then blotted his copybook – letting a simple catch over the line fall to his feet to see another touchdown go begging. 3 more points was scant consolation as the Bears made it academic at 44-24.
Jordan Veasy made the most of a tiring defence to stroll through unopposed. At 51-24 the blowout was officially complete.
Paul Harris made the most of his opportunity down under, skirting through some lazy defence to make it 51-31 – plenty of points for the 60,000 plus on show.
Vic Enwere went within inches of a TD, but time ran out and that was a wrap.
A tremendous afternoon experience by a huge crowd on a perfect day in Sydney. How could you ask for more?