Tommy Kaulukukui is Centurians #4

HSB Note: “In my long-ago West Coast newspapering days there was an L.A. press box legend that one sportswriter complained that it took him longer to type Tommy Kaulukukui than it did for the University of Hawaii halfback to return a UCLA kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown, then a Coliseum and still a UH record. Tommy also had a 39-yard touchdown run called back in that November 1935 game, won by the home team Bruins 19-6 while football fans in Hawaii crowded around radios, listening in as Kaulukukui also made touchdown-saving tackles from his safety spot and was the focal point on offense at tailback in the single-wing.”

HSB Note: “Bruins Ace Is Outshone by Little Tommy, screamed one headline. One of the greatest backs to ever trod on the Coliseum turf, gushed Jack James of the Los Angeles Examiner. Five-foot-four when fully stretched, 145 pounds when fully fed, Tommy had firmly stamped University of Hawaii football on the mainland map in one day.”

HSB Note: “BORN IN KALIHI in 1913 and raised in Hilo, Tommy was the fifth of 15 children. He attended Hilo High, where he was an all-around athlete, even performing with a Hilo all-star baseball team against a visiting major league squad that included Babe Ruth, an experience Tommy regularly related.”

HSB Note: “His wartime service as an Army officer earned him the gratitude and eternal comradeship of veterans of the 442nd. His calm, determined voice during 14 years as a founding force and Trustee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, tamed many a potentially turbulent time.”

HSB Note: “As Tommy told the story, he was playing in a 135-pound barefoot league between his jobs as a stevedore and working in the Hilo foundry when he was spotted by a scout from the Manoa campus. Famed composer and former UH football player Albert Nahalea sealed the deal, according to Tommy’s son.”

About how he was offered a scholarship to UH and became a 21-year-old freshman, Tommy said:
“Coach Proc Klum offered me a scholarship, sight unseen.” (HSB)

HSB Note: “Tommy won 17 letters in five sports — football, basketball, baseball, track and tennis — a record that will never be approached. On the football field he ambled with a little limp, a result of a childhood fall from an uncle’s shoulders. Instead of hurting his athleticism, Tommy — and most opponents — agreed that one leg being about an inch shorter than the other helped him.”

About how he was going to punt the ball when UH had the ball at its 10-yard-line and 4th-and-long in a 1937 game against Denver (UH won 7-6), Tommy talked about deciding to run when he thought he saw an opening:
“But the opening closed, so I reversed field, circled back through the end zone and ran up the left sideline for a first down at about midfield. We ran out the clock from there and preserved a one- or two-point victory.” (HSB)

HSB Note: “All Denver players reputedly had a shot at tackling Tommy on that run. Some had two. His gridiron exploits caught the attention of famed sportswriter Grantland Rice, who named Tommy to the Board of Football All-America team. He was the first Hawaii player ever honored with an All-America accolade. He hung a nickname on Tommy: “Grass Shack.” Rice may have thought he was doing something nice, and son Tom said Tommy didn’t care about the moniker one way or the other. But it was all wrong for Tommy, as it implied of a lazy life under the tropical sun.”

HSB Note: “Following the Pearl Harbor bombing, Tommy served as an Army officer in a work battalion composed of young men of Japanese ancestry who were not allowed to volunteer for military duty. Many of these men later fought with the 442nd, and invited Tommy to reunions here and on the mainland for decades after. TOMMY WAS AN assistant coach for several years at Michigan State, then returned to coach ‘Iolani in 1960.”

About playing for Tommy when he coached at Iolani, Hugh Yoshida said:
“He had this little limp, you know, and you could see why it was so hard to tackle him in his playing days. He was soft-spoken, and commanded respect. When he said something it was a good idea to pay attention, because you would learn something.” (HSB)

Yoshida said that the main lesson he learned from Tommy was:
“how to deal with people.” (HSB)

About working with Tommy at OHA, Steve Kuna said:
“He was a calming force amid a chaotic OHA in its formative stages. As a trustee he was in the middle of what was often a Wild West show, but Tommy never aggravated someone on the other side of the issues. Everyone knew he did what he thought was right for the people.” (HSB)

HSB Note: “And throughout his long and meaningful life, Tommy was regularly asked to reminisce about his Coliseum run. He always said it was a designed play, and once when Tommy Jr. was the special teams coach for the Kailua JV, he asked his father about it.”

About how he asked his Dad about his famous kickoff return play and he promised his players a staek dinner if they scored on a kickoff, Tommy Jr. said:
“Dad diagrammed the play for me. We had three touchdowns on kickoff returns that season. I bought a lot of steaks.” (HSB)

HSB Note: “Kaulukukui and his wife, Felice, had three children. He made time to spend with his lifelong friends from the Fighting Deans, including Bill Ahuna and Tony Morse. He died in March 2007, leaving a legacy of quiet leadership, universal respect and athletic greatness highlighted by a tremendous run in 1935.”


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