It was a road trip of highs and lows for the University of Hawaii football team.
Highs at West Point, N.Y., where it’s a mere 241 feet above sea level.
Lows at Boulder, Colo., up in the mountains at 5,430 feet.
After UH lost 31-13 at Colorado a week following the 31-28 win at Army, it’s clear the Warriors need to elevate their game when playing at high altitude.
A guy who says he’s a physician e-mailed me insisting oxygen debt is all in the head at a mile above sea level. When I asked, he provided references and everything.
Ashley Lelie, who played four seasons with the Denver Broncos concurs — yes, it is in the head … and in the lungs, and in the sinuses, and in the legs.
"It takes a lot out of you. It definitely affects you. Teams would come in and they’d be dead tired. It was a great home-field advantage," said Lelie, the former UH star receiver who is now a student assistant for the Warriors. "When I came back from the offseason it would always take at least one week to get used to it. Until then I’d be getting headaches and bloody noses, waking up with blood all over the pillow."
Lelie got the other side of it when he visited his old teammates for a game as a member of the Oakland Raiders.
"I felt it after that first adrenaline rush early in the game," he said. "It’s not just in your head. If you have less oxygen and you’re not used to it you can’t perform as well."
I’M NOT denying the science, just choosing to not be blinded by it like Thomas Dolby.
I believe Lelie, who actually lived it for four years. I also believe Kealoha Pilares, the UH receiver who looked like he was running in slo-mo a good part of the 80 yards he covered on one play against the Buffs, before he was tracked down by cornerback Jimmy Smith — who had an angle and acclimation working in his favor.
"Yeah, I just died," Pilares admitted to reporters home at UH yesterday. "I felt like how I felt in Vegas. I really don’t know if it was the altitude or the travel."
Two weeks on the road is a long time. It can make anyone sluggish.
The tackle by Smith at the Colorado 3 on the second play of the game turned out to be big, as Colorado stuffed UH at the goal line … a morale boost for a team that really needed one. The Warriors would be denied at the goal again two series later. You know the rest of the details or have repressed them if you’re fortunate.
NO MORE Rocky Mountain Highs for the Warriors to deal with the rest of this season. But they do go back to Boulder in 2014.
And those of you pining for an invitation to the Mountain West Conference? Don’t forget the first word in the name of that league; it actually corresponds logically to its membership, unlike the Western Athletic Conference.
Playing in the MWC (at least as things stand now) would include trips to Colorado State at Fort Collins (5,003 feet), Air Force at Colorado Springs (6,035) and Wyoming at Laramie (7,200).
A way exists for UH to get an edge on any high-level homestanding opponent — and everybody else, too.
Never mind practicing in Las Vegas; the Warriors must merely join the telescope guys at the Mauna Kea Observatory (13,796 feet). My mountain-climbing friend Michael Tsai says working out at that altitude eventually brings about physiological changes that give athletes significantly better endurance, at any altitude.
The only problem is "eventually" equals six weeks. Not real practical unless there’s a practice field and dorms up there.
The Warriors can forget about the road and its dastardly turns for the next two weeks. Saturday they host a Charleston Southern team whose seniors recall being crushed 66-10 here in 2007. The key now is to avoid overconfidence; it’s nothing about altitude and all about attitude this week.
"If we’re playing out here, I score," Pilares said of his long sideline run up in the mountains. "But it’s said and done. We just have to be prepared for this Saturday."