Where I Stand:

This city, this team need each other

The Rebel Room

Football heads to Wisconsin; Rice adds another 2012 commit

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Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer take a look at UNLV football's Thursday night opener at No. 11 Wisconsin, where the Rebels will head to as a five-touchdown underdog. While Bobby Hauck's program tries to continue its upward trend, Dave Rice and the men's basketball staff kept theirs going on the recruiting trail. The guys discuss the Monday night commitment from Bishop Gorman power forward Demetris Morant and much more.

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I can’t believe that the UNLV Rebels are playing a basketball game against the University of Wisconsin this early in the year.

Neither can anyone else, because it is not true. The sentiment I have just expressed, though, is indicative of Las Vegas’ reaction to UNLV sports. This is a basketball town, ever since coach Jerry Tarkanian picked up his towel and the team’s tempo and won us a national championship and more fans across the country than you can count.

But basketball is not what I want to talk about today. Believe it or not, it is UNLV football that has my attention. Why?

Because tonight the Rebels will be in Madison, Wis., to play the Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. The game will be featured on ESPN and begins at 5 p.m. Just in case you don’t understand what that means, this is a big deal! Last year, Wisconsin came to Sam Boyd Stadium and won 41-21, as they should have. This year they are a 35-point favorite to send the Rebels packing.

I used to go to the Rebel football games, way back when, because I, like so many other Las Vegans, wanted to support anything and everything UNLV did. It got hard, though, to persuade my wife or anybody else — other than my dear friend, Mike O’Callaghan — to make the trip to Sam Boyd Stadium on a Saturday night just to watch a valiant group of young men lose another game.

There, I said it. I am just like most Las Vegans. We need a winner or we take our sports enthusiast business elsewhere. Anywhere. It has been a long time since I have gone to a game, unlike Runnin’ Rebel ballgames, which have seen a resurgence of the exciting style of up-tempo, run, gun and defend basketball that defined the Tarkanian days and which promise more excitement under new head coach David Rice.

But all that may change this year, beginning with the game tonight. Not that I expect the Rebels to beat Wisconsin — although miracles, they do happen — but because Las Vegas needs to get behind something positive again. We have been through some difficult times with more yet to come. We need something that can distract us as well as give us something to root for — as a community. Why not college football?

I am thinking about this today because when I hear the name Wisconsin Badgers I think first and foremost about my friend, Tom Wiesner. Tom played football for Wisconsin. He was the team’s captain and most valuable player in 1960. Tom led his team to the Big Ten title that year and then to the Rose Bowl, where they lost to Washington.

Football, Wisconsin football, was in Tom’s blood. Then he moved to Las Vegas, where he quickly became one of our city’s most active citizens. He was a successful politician, businessman and human being. He was just one of those all-around really good people who we are lucky to know just a few times in our lives. Did I mention he loved football, Wisconsin football?

It was that love and the newly minted love affair with Las Vegas and its growing university, UNLV, that gave Tom the chance to leave an indelible mark on UNLV athletics.

There was nothing Tom wouldn’t or didn’t do for UNLV. So when he had the chance to put Rebel football on the map by securing Wisconsin as a multiyear opponent, he jumped at it, accomplished it and never looked back. Tom had high hopes for the football program here. That he died far too early and far too soon to see UNLV realize its potential on the gridiron doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

One thing I do know, though, is that if Tom Wiesner were here today, he would be doing all he could to persuade Las Vegas to pull itself together during these difficult times and to do so by rallying around the sport he loved. And he would do it in time for the Wisconsin-UNLV game.

So, that is what I am doing. I don’t know how long it will take for second-year coach Bobby Hauck to produce the winning teams that Tom Wiesner envisioned so many years ago. But I do know it will happen sooner if Las Vegans get behind those young men and support their efforts.

We all need to find a way to be the kind of community, again, that made us the envy of the country. Maybe Rebel football will give us one more reason to come together to root for something that will take some luck, hard work and courage. That’s what Tom would say, so I have said it for him.

Go Rebels!

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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