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I was looking through an old Hilo High School Vikings yearbook a while ago and noticed it had three pages devoted to student nicknames. Every senior, it seemed, had one.
I thought of that list when one of my readers told me about someone nicknamed “The Knee.” His real name was William Ventura Pacheco (1916-1992), but he was more often referred to as Bill “The Knee” Pacheco.
“I knew Bill ‘The Knee’ Pacheco,” Bill Souza told me. “He was the owner of the Oasis Cafe on Old Waialae Road just makai of the University of Hawaii.
“‘The Knee’ was a placekicker,” Souza continued. “He employed a straight-on kicking method, rather than soccer style.”
I wondered why he wasn’t called “The Foot,” the part of the body he kicked with. Turns out, there were too many “Toes”!
Bill “The Knee” Pacheco had a remarkable career. He was a graduate of Saint Louis School in Kaimuki.
At Saint Louis, Pacheco was a kicker and running back. He said his greatest thrill in football came when Saint Louis played Kamehameha in 1935. Kamehameha was the defending champ, but a 45-yard run by Pacheco brought the game to a 6-6 final. “It remains my fondest sports memory,” Pacheco said.
He played for the Hawaiian Warriors in 1948 in the Pacific Coast Football League. They had a 5-1 record against such teams as the Los Angeles Rams, Long Beach Bulldogs, Hollywood Bears and San Francisco Clippers, ending up in first place. Wally Yonamine was a teammate before switching to baseball.
Anything but ‘The Toe’
In late July 1949, Pacheco tried out with the San Francisco 49ers, who were in the All-American Football Conference at the time. He was 33.
In the Oakland Tribune in June 1949, columnist Alan Ward wrote, “How come Pacheco packs such an unusual nickname as ‘The Knee’?
“Dan McGuire, former Oakland sports editor and now a power in island newspaper circles, bestowed the sobriquet.
“Every place-kicker,” remarked McGuire sagely, “is known as ‘The Toe.’ Our boy Bill is entitled to more distinction. Let’s call him ‘The Knee.’ Anything but The Toe!”
“The name stuck and Bill is so taken with the tag he even signs his name Bill (The Knee) Pacheco.”
‘The Knee’ does cartwheels
“The 49ers had a very good placekicker in Joe ‘Little Toe’ Vetrano, but they had heard of the feats of ‘The Knee’ with the old Hawaiian Warriors of the Pacific Coast League,” Honolulu Advertiser sportswriter Dan McGuire wrote.
In order to make “Little Toe” Vetrano battle for his job, the 49ers sent Pacheco a contract and a publicity questionnaire. Dozens of reporters greeted his arrival.
“The Knee” arrived in San Francisco carrying a spear, wearing a cardinal-and-gold Hawaiian cape and helmet, and singing “Song of the Islands” in a booming baritone.
“I have come to lead the 49ers out of the football wilderness,” said “The Knee” as he graciously saluted the open-mouthed writers and sang a chorus of “Little Grass Shack.”
After two weeks of training camp, the 49ers held an intrasquad game at Kezar Stadium.
“More than 20,000 fans, the largest crowd ever for such a preseason affair, turned out,” McGuire wrote. “They wanted to see ‘The Knee.’ He didn’t disappoint them.
“His team won the game 28-0 and ‘The Knee’ kicked the four extra points. And he went off the field turning cartwheels after each conversion.
“On his fourth successful attempt, the crowd gave him an ovation and he flip-flopped to the bench, right in front of head coach Lawrence ‘Buck’ Shaw.
“He threw Shaw a snappy salute and barked: ‘Toes may come and toes may go, but ‘The Knee’ goes on forever.” That’s a great line.
Pacheco didn’t make the SF 49ers, so he returned to Honolulu and created the Hawaiian 49ers, a local football team that was unbeaten in its first two seasons (against UH and local military teams).
Chaco’s and the Oasis
Pacheco co-owned the Oasis Night Club (“Where friends and athletes meet”) and Chaco’s restaurant, next door, with Ruth Sugai for more than 30 years. It was at 2952 Waialae Road makai of UH, where a Public Storage is today.
The Oasis became a relief area for struggling athletes. “He used to be very good to our football kids who needed a meal or two,” said Tommy Kaulukukui, a former UH football coach. “He told me, ‘If the kids ever need a meal, tell them to drop in.’ He helped the team.”
In addition to that, Pacheco worked as a Honolulu policeman, a sports columnist for both of Honolulu’s major daily newspapers, and was an organizer for the Honolulu Marathon.
Spring football games between the current varsity team and a group of former team members are common. But it is unusual for one of the players to be in his 60s.
In the case of Bill “The Knee” Pacheco, he was 62.
The particular UH-alumni game took place in 1978. Pacheco was on the alumni team although he was not a UH grad. The alumni had scored a touchdown, and Pacheco was sent in to kick the extra point.
The varsity poured through to block Pacheco’s attempt, and his opportunity for a bit of glory appeared to be over, McGuire wrote.
“However, UH head coach Dick Tomey and his aides, sympathetic to the feelings of anyone over 35, decided that if the varsity tallied late in the contest, they would ask ‘The Knee’ to do the placekicking honors.”
“Those of us who are relative newcomers have heard that ‘The Knee’ is kind of a legendary character here,” said Tomey. “So we thought we’d give him a chance to show what he could do.”
“This was why they called for a timeout when the varsity drove to the alumni 3-yard line with only 34 seconds remaining on the clock,” McGuire continued.
“The fans booed when play was stopped, thinking the varsity was trying to run up the score. Then Radford Park dived over to make it 43-6 and everyone started to yell, ‘Bill! Bill!’
“Pacheco was standing on the sidelines and didn’t know they meant him until he was shoved onto the field.
“His kick was an artistic one, high and straight through the uprights. ‘The Knee’ jumped up and down, as if he had just won the Super Bowl. Thirty years ago, he used to turn cartwheels after a successful kick, but the passing seasons do take a toll.”
“I don’t know whether or not Bill ‘The Knee’ Pacheco will get into the Guinness Book of World Records for kicking an extra point in the UH varsity-alumni game the other night,” McGuire wrote. “But there should be some room for a 62-year-old fellow who accomplishes such a feat.
“And the whole thing has an added aura in that Bill was supposed to be a member of the alumni squad, but he made the point for the varsity on the last play of the evening.” He played for both teams. It made nationwide news.
If you think a 62-year-old playing football in a UH varsity vs. alumni game is unusual, Pacheco played again the following year.
The Honolulu Star-Bulletin wrote, tongue in cheek, “Bill ‘The Knee’ Pacheco, the ageless 63-year-old alumni kicker arrived at the game in ‘an ambulance,’ then kicked a 20-yard field goal for the varsity to make the final score, 24-7. He also tacked on an extra point.”
If he could do it at 62 and 63, why not play again at 64? He did. The Star-Bulletin said he was “borne onto the field by two cheerleaders and an attending physician for the opening kickoff” at Aloha Stadium.
The varsity won 37-7 in 1980. Pacheco scored an extra point for the alumni’s only TD as 5,317 fans roared their approval. It was “The Knee’s” last appearance.
Bob Sigall is the author of the five “Companies We Keep” books. Contact him at Sigall@Yahoo.com.
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