Clash of cultures at Sugar Bowl

ATHENS – Hawaii coach June Jones speculated Monday that no Georgia player has ever met a person of Polynesian descent, and he probably would be right if not for cornerback Thomas Flowers.

Flowers' father lives in Seattle, and Flowers has spent enough time there to count a few Samoans as friends.

"They can cook good, I know that," he said. "It's really good food, seriously."

Beyond that, "I'm clueless, really," on the Polynesian culture, Flowers said. The No. 10 Warriors, who the No. 4 Bulldogs will play Jan. 1 in the Sugar Bowl, are college football's only undefeated team in some measure due to Jones and his embracing of that culture and spirit.

"There is a lot of pride in who we are and our kids play at a little higher level because of that," Jones said. "When we play (mainland) schools, it's almost like the kids have something to prove."

When Jones took over the program, there were 19 native Hawaiins on the roster. The team was made up mostly of mainlanders who weren't quite good enough for major college football but liked the idea of living in the islands.

"Every good player in Hawaii left and went to college on the mainland," Jones said.

The former Atlanta Falcons coach set out to change that, and he has. When the season began, Hawaii had 76 natives on its roster, and the team has fully embraced the spirit of ohana, the Polynesian belief in extended family.

"When we get kids from California or Texas, when they come, we have a real melting pot and they are taken in and accepted and this becomes their family," Jones said. "That's basically how this culture works. The Polynesian culture is really family-oriented."'

One of the cultures most unique traits is the custom of informal adoption known as hanai. It's one of the highest honors in the culture for a family to give one of its children to another family, sometimes related and sometimes not, to raise, Jones said. The Warriors recruited Hercules and Samson Satele, one from Hawaii and one from California, without realizing they were actually brothers, Jones said.

"It's just a unique, special culture that I am really blessed to be a part of," he said.

The state's residents have noticed Jones' efforts and cling to the team because of it, which is one of the reasons Jones isn't worried about his fan base making a good showing despite playing more than 4,000 miles from campus.

"This isn't really the University of Hawaii's team. This is the state's team," he said. "It's basically the cab drives the maids, the working guys, firemen, policemen (who come to the game)."

The Warriors' cultural leanings became national news earlier this year when they drew criticism for their pregame haka dance. The dance, which has Polynesian roots, includes a throat-slashing gesture and resulted in a 15-yard penalty against the Warriors when they played Louisiana Tech on Sept. 8.

Hawaii has since scrapped the haka and now does a dance made up by three of its players, which is called the ha'a. The ha'a is very similar to the haka but leaves out the throat-slashing.

Georgia's offensive players watched a short video of the dance and got a brief lesson on the Polynesian culture Friday, senior wide receiver Sean Bailey said.

"Just as the name implies, they are Warriors. The Polynesian culture from what I understand, that's how they're raised," wide receiver Mikey Henderson said. "It does make them tough. You can definitely tell they have a fire underneath them."

Georgia head coach Mark Richt worked with several Hawaii players earlier this year when he coached in the Hula Bowl and was impressed by their physicality and their mentality.

"They don't want anybody to push them around," Richt said. "They are tough-minded people. They are not going to take any crud, you know, that kind of attitude."

Rest assured, though, Georgia will not be intimidated by that fighting spirit, linebacker Marcus Washington said.

"At the end of the day, (the dance is) just for show," he said. "They are going to come out and do their dance and try to get fired up, but at the end of the day, it's all about playing football, regardless of who can dance better."

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