NEW ORLEANS --- The last time Hawaii came to Louisiana, the team was flagged for doing its ritual pre-game dance and incited anger among a hostile crowd that responded to the Warriors' arm-slapping moves with similar, more vulgar gestures of their own.
"I think they got mad," Hawaii defensive lineman Michael Lafaele recalled of the Warriors' visit to Louisiana Tech. "That's why they played us so hard."
That game, played in Ruston, La., back in September, ended up going to overtime before the Warriors pulled out one of their closest victories, 45-44, in a 12-0 regular season.
Hawaii's invitation to play Georgia (10-2) in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day gave the Warriors an opportunity to showcase their dance and accompanying chant, called the Ha'a, on a national stage.
"We take a lot of pride in that, especially the local boys," said Lafaele, a native Hawaiian who fits the mold with his long dark hair, tan complexion and burly physique. "It's something that's a part of us. Growing up, that was our culture."
International rugby fans know a Maori war dance, called the Haka, very well. New Zealand's national team (the All Blacks) performs it before games.
But Hawaii's Polynesian version with the slightly different name is relatively new to most of America, only now becoming familiar to college football fans as Hawaii draws more interest by virtue of all the winning the Warriors have done lately.
So perhaps people who've never seen it before could be excused for wondering whether they just saw something offensive, especially if some of the younger players from the mainland didn't perform all the moves quite right.
"We tell them to make their arm straight," Lafaele said, demonstrating by punching one arm out and slapping his other hand on his biceps.
"Don't go like that," he added, evoking laughter as he demonstrated a similar motion with his arm bent at the elbow and his hand slapping a little lower on his arm.
Each year during fall camp, veteran players teach new ones how to do it. They don't do it at practice under coaches' direction, but on their own time.