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RIP Robert Kekaula: Remembering College Football’s Late Night King

Robert Kekaula passed away this weekend.

The University of Hawaii’s football team lost its announcer, but college football lost one of the sport’s greatest cult figures. How familiar you were with Robert Kekaula was a good indicator of what type of football fan you are.

Many college football fans only watch the sport when their team is playing. Some are only interested in watching games involving ranked teams or schools from major conferences. Unless they happened to live in Hawaii, those people may not have known who Robert Kekaula was.

For another type of college football fan, Kekaula was a mascot. There are some of us who are college football junkies. We consume as much of the sport as humanly possible, even if it’s a game that isn’t particularly good by conventional standards. We watch Tuesday night MAC games, Thursday night ACC Coastal matchups between Duke and Pitt, and 10:00 EST kickoffs between UNLV and Nevada on a Friday night. The biggest indicator of whether or not someone is a true college football junkie is how many nights a season they spend streaming Hawaii Football broadcasts with Robert Kekaula on the Spectrum Sports App.

We only get 15 days a year that are filled wall to wall with the best sport in the world, and so much happens over the course of a fall Saturday that it’s often too much to digest. As you tried to wrap your mind around all of the results of the day and how they had shifted the national championship and conference title races, there was something soothing about watching the last game of the slate being played out on the island.

When you love college football in its purest form, every Saturday is like Christmas. As the drama of the primetime games came to a conclusion, Kekaula was there with one more unopened present. That the clock could be turning to Sunday in the Eastern Timezone at the same time a game was kicking off in the late day sun on the big island always felt like some kind of magic. Robert Kekaula was the narrator for all of this.

He was there to make sure collegiate football’s last call was a happy one, guiding your twelve hour buzz softly towards the tarmac. Did you need a friend to help you process things after watching your team lose a close game during the night slate? Kekaula was there with an “Aloha” and a smile, wishing all of us a pleasant evening. Did you have a bad gambling day? Kekaula on the screen meant one more chance to get back to even and avoid paying your bookie on Monday.

What made it all the better was that Kekaula himself was representative of why we love the sport as a whole. He was quirky and uniquely regional. The man sounded like Cookie Monster, and his announcing style was marked by a unique cadence that came out in bursts. His wardrobe was impeccable.

Kekaula was the type of character that would never come within a thousand miles of an NFL broadcasting booth, but he was perfectly at home on the Spectrum Sports App and uniquely suited for our sport. Like any good fan, Kekaula had disdain for his teams rivals. He once signed off from a broadcast at Fresno State with the line, “and from the armpit of America…”

As more and more college football fans took to Twitter and message boards during the 2000’s and 2010’s, the cult of Kekaula grew. Hawaii Football became the fireplace that the sport gathered around to discuss the day’s events on Twitter. The folks at Reddit’s college football community, r/CFB, dubbed it “The Hawaii Test.” If there is ever a contributor’s section in the College Football Hall of Fame, Kekaula deserves strong consideration.

Kekaula was at his best when Hawaii was putting up points and slinging it all over the field. A native Hawaiian, he was an unapologetic homer. Behind the mic for the Timmy Chang and Colt Brennan years, Kekaula will forever be part of the unique slice of college football history that was the June Jones era of Hawaii Football. Sometimes you would tune in just to drift off in the second quarter, but other times the midnight game would deliver a thriller.

What made all of this even more fun was that Kekaula seemed to understand the niche that he filled for us diehards. He would respond to tweets from fans, and he always seemed genuinely excited to share his love for Hawaii with anyone willing to listen.

The state of Hawaii and the University of Hawaii have lost two legends this offseason. First with the passing of Brennan and now with the loss of Kekaula. Football will continue being played at midnight on the big island, but it will be different without Kekaula behind the mic. Despite his absence, we will tune in and do our best to have a pleasant evening. Robert Kekaula wouldn’t want it any other way.