Monday, Sept. 29, 2008 | 1 p.m.
A few fights, some flesh and plenty of alcohol fueled the nonstop revelry that broke out at Sam Boyd Stadium on Saturday as UNLV and UNR fans played their part in one of the biggest pregame parties in the 34-year-old rivalry.
“It’s like spring break without the spring break part in the title,” said Las Vegas native Robby Diaz, who took in the scene by watching thousands of fans decked out in either UNLV red or UNR blue from atop his homemade, gas-powered “go-kart cooler.”
Diaz’s creative silver-painted machine (an instant hit by fans of both schools) was just the tip of the iceberg in tailgating inventions that permeated a nonstop party that began as soon as the gates opened at 3 p.m. in the fields stretching along the southwest entrance of the UNLV stadium.
In fact, the juxtaposition of simple T-shirt-clad fans, which made up the majority of Saturday’s announced crowd of 33,078 (the eighth-largest in Sam Boyd history), compared to the dozens of costumed individuals gave an almost Burning Man-type aura — complete with artistic-themed creations and self-expressive dances similar to the annual festival held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, which took place just a few weeks prior.
“It’s just one big bash,” said a smiling Diaz, as he took another swig from his beer.
Parking lot party
The cookers closest to Sam Boyd gave off a sweet and tangy aroma of slow-burning barbecue. The bright, burning sun mixed with the heat from his charcoal grill started to make Singleton Floyd sweat.
The thought of his perfected chicken and a Rebels victory raised the veteran tailgater’s spirits. His taste buds already were salivating.
“Oh yeah, we’re going to get them tonight. Rebels: National Champs,” said an excited Floyd, raising his spatula skyward.
Had Floyd’s exaggerated remark reached the revelers just a few rows down, all Hades might have broken loose. After all, there was at least one spectator already equipped with a pitchfork and there was no shortage of flames. But those embers were reserved for food as the alcohol flowed freely.
“Everyone’s here to have fun. Dancing, chilling, drinking -- it’s just a real cool atmosphere,” said DJ Crazy, as he listened to his brother, DJ Green, amp the celebration to the next level as he blasted rapper Lil Wayne on the turntables.
DJ Crazy, who spins at spots such as the Art Bar, Beauty Bar, Caesars Palace pool and Revolution Lounge at The Mirage, said he hadn’t seen the kind of energy or excitement that he watched Saturday at any Vegas nightclub.
“It’s a way better crowd than at a nightclub. The people here are all 18-to-23 and they just want to party and dance. A lot of the people in the clubs are over 40 and just want to be seen or sit down and drink. It’s a different kind of energy out here today.”
Indeed, few Vegas nightspots have a beer pong table mere feet away from the DJ booth (a tent in this case). But as Crazy’s other guest artist, DJ Kaotic, pumped up the crowd with some beats, the handful of guys playing the Solo cup sport found it was getting harder to pay attention to the direction the ping pong balls were bouncing than it was to focus on females gyrating nearby on the makeshift dance floor.
An abundance of the traditional tailgating games, such as washers and horseshoes, were nearby, just past the towering perch of three police officers on horseback keeping tabs on the happenings.
But traditional games wouldn’t do for UNLV junior Matt Hudlow, who along with a pair of buddies, held their version of Edward Fortyhands — a popular college drinking game in which contestants try to finish two 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor while their hands are duct-taped to the beverages. The winner of the contest created in homage to the 1990 movie "Edward Scissorhands" is crowned based on speed. Urination, of course, equals automatic disqualification and a change of clothes.
“We’re doing it big for this one,” Hudlow said with a smile, but only half his drinks downed. “I don’t have to go to the bathroom yet, but it could be trouble pretty soon.”
Unlike a few unruly individuals, UNR senior Neil Siaz didn’t see the need to cause any raucous Saturday. In fact, he even offered up a reward of sorts to his southern foes.
“I’ll buy some Rebels some drinks to ease the pain,” said Siaz who got a roar of laughter from Wolf Pack fans and boos from a circle of UNLV faithful who sported T-shirts emblazoned with "F UNR" and “The only thing that blows more than Reno, is this cannon,” a reference to the Fremont Cannon awarded to the Battle for Nevada winner each year.
Siaz’s comments were just the kind of statements Barry Schiller said he has come to expect from Wolf Pack fans.
The Reno-based Rebels fan shared some of the "harassment" he endured on his trek to Vegas this weekend, but he was just as quick to dish it right back.
“There are two universities in this state. There’s University of Nevada in Reno, then there is THE University of Nevada Las Vegas,” Schiller exclaimed.
Before he could finish, his barbecue brethren, Joe Ross, didn’t miss a beat: “This is the biggest game of the century for the state of Nevada.”
Showdown in Sam Boyd
The song "Viva Las Vegas" played 10 minutes before kickoff in Sam Boyd Stadium, and even though it was Emir Lopez' first trip to a UNLV football game, he could tell there was something special about this one.
“It definitely feels like a big-game atmosphere,” the Las Vegas High senior quarterback said. “That’s something you really haven’t said much about UNLV football over the last couple of years. I think it’s going to be a good one.”
As Lopez disappeared into the crowd with his Wildcat teammates, UNLV senior cheerleader Chelsea Staker stretched one final time before the National Anthem. Like Lopez, this was her first time to watch the rivalry game in person.
“What can you say except that it’s an exciting atmosphere right now around the Rebels,” Staker said with a smile. “It was the same thing with UNLV basketball last year and that feeling has carried over to the football team.
“It’s a good time to be a cheerleader, student or fan of UNLV.”
Minutes later, Staker’s statement proved to be true as UNLV kicker Ben Jaekle’s 47-yard field goal put the Rebels in front of their rival. And the only thing wrong in Justin Fisher’s world was that a friend of his just knocked over a full beer in the excitement of celebrating UNLV’s second score of the first quarter.
“I love it,” yelled Fisher, who along with a loud contingent of UNLV fans in Section 106 began the patented “Re-bels, Re-bels” chant from their seats next to the biggest segment of Wolf Pack followers.
“I definitely wanted to be as close to UNR fans as I could so that I could get up close and personal and let them know whose house they are in," he said.
That didn’t bother John Morgeson, a Wolf Pack fan from San Diego. Nor did the 21 unanswered points by UNR.
“I’m glad that the rivalry is better than it has been, and UNLV has had some nice wins. But it looks like we’re going to get back on track tonight,” Morgeson said.
Another field goal by UNLV’s Jaekle cut the Rebels' deficit to 28-20 in the final minute of the first half, but it was clear by the looks on faces in the crowd of the Snack Attack concession line that the game’s spirit had shifted.
“I pray to God that we come out strong in the second half, but we’re kind of sucking right now,” said Erica House, who's lived in Las Vegas for five years.
UNLV’s concession and merchandise vendors fared better than the team on the field.
“A lot more people were buying T-shirts and stuff tonight. I’d say we’ve easily had twice the business as normal,” said UNLV senior Ricci Renna, adding that the university had sold several hundred custom T-shirts with “Beat Reno” on them.
And no big surprise, beer sales were steady.
“We sold lots and lots of beer,” said vendor David Payne. “But I was a little surprised that I saw very few problems. People were very civil.”
Cannon stays up north
The second half didn’t start well for the Rebels or their fans.
UNR’s Colin Kaepernick's 66-yard score in the first 20 seconds of the third quarter set the tone. The Wolf Pack signal caller could not be stop.
Still, UNLV sophomore Charlie Carltonguay held out hope.
Ryan Wolfe’s 7-yard score from Omar Clayton midway through the third kept the Rebels’ deficit within a single score.
“We’ve been a last-minute team the last couple of weeks and there’s plenty of time left,” said Carltonguay, after racing around the south end zone with three other Rebels flag bearers. “But we’ve got to do it now.”
But with nearly 12 minutes left in the fourth, Vai Taua’s 4-yard score sealed the fate for a large number of Rebels fans as a mass exodus of red flooded the exits on the home side of the field.
One Rebels fan in particular leaped out from the other gloomy faces. The man dressed up in the lime green, button-down shirt was none other than Marion 'Suge' Knight -- known to most of the world as the hip-hop mogul behind Death Row Records, but to UNLV fans he was a two-time Rebels letter-winner as a defensive linemen in 1985-86.
“It was a good atmosphere, but obviously it would have been even better if they would have won,” said Knight, who said he hadn’t attended a UNLV game in 15 years but watched Saturday’s contest with his daughter who goes to the university.
“It’s definitely nice to see the Rebels rebounding this year. I think they’ve got a few more wins in them.”
Sadly for Rebels fans, despite the excitement built up for 2008’s Battle for Nevada, the end result stayed the same as the previous three years with the Fremont Cannon rolling back to Reno and Wolf Pack fans rushing the field.
“It was an indescribable feeling of energy and excitement to plant the flag at midfield and have all our fans and players cheering around it,” UNR cheer member Laroy Hutchinson said.
The scene was quite subdued on the other sideline.
But one straggling Rebels fan stuck around to witness the Wolf Pack’s celebration, wondering aloud how many more times this season will his team be on the right end of such a jubilant moment.
“UNLV got a taste to see what it’s all about -- the excitement around big-time football games,” said Nick Rogutich, a junior transfer from Wisconsin and big-time Badgers fan.
“Hopefully, all the fans won’t let that go to waste just because of one loss.”
Andy Samuelson is a sports writer/editor for the Las Vegas Sun. He can be reached at [email protected] or 702-948-7837.