rebels football:

Led by Randall Cunningham, these Rebels were the first to reach a postseason bowl

Coach Harvey Hyde of UNLV’s California Bowl championship team: ‘We are all still Rebels’

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UNLV PHOTO SERVICES

Quarterback Randall Cunningham at the line of scrimmage during the UNLV football team’s California Bowl victory against Toledo in 1984.

1984 UNLV Football Team

1984 UNLV team and staff at Old Vegas with Quarterback Randall Cunningham in the foreground. Launch slideshow »

There may never be another UNLV football team like this one.

The 1984 Rebels were the first in program history to reach a bowl game, topping Toledo 30-13 in the California Bowl to finish with an 11-2 record. It’s still the best record in school history.

Take a quick look at the roster and one name immediately stands out: Randall Cunningham, a quarterback and punter widely believed to be the program’s best all-time player.

However, the former NFL great will be the first to confirm that the team was more than a one-man show. It was stacked with talented players on both sides of the ball — Aaron Moog had 63 tackles and six sacks to be named the league’s defensive player of the year, and 12 Rebels were all-league selections.

“We had such a great team, so many athletes,” Cunningham said before reciting more than 10 players.

Today is the 29th anniversary of the bowl victory for the great '84 team, which in 2012 was inducted in the UNLV Athletics Hall of Fame. Of course, we’re talking UNLV football bowl games this month because the current Rebels will play Jan. 1 against North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, which is just the program’s fourth-ever bowl appearance and first in 13 years.

Talk with those affiliated with the '84 team and they’ll argue the UNLV bowl history should include one more game. The 1983 Rebels were upset in the final game of the season against Long Beach State when a victory would have given them the PCAA league championship and corresponding berth into the California Bowl.

“It still don’t like to talk about that Long Beach game. It makes me sick,” said Harvey Hyde, UNLV’s coach from 1982-85. “We lost on the last play of the game. They had no timeouts and drove the length of the field after Randall punted it to the 7. Officials from the California Bowl had already come down to the field to award us the invitation.

“During the offseason, we vowed to never allow that to happen again,” Hyde continued. “We wanted to control our own destiny.”

The Rebels opened the '84 season with three straight wins before losing 16-12 at Hawaii in front of more than 40,000 fans. They were possibly the victims of some poor officiating, former UNLV players still argue. The other loss came to nationally ranked SMU in the regular-season finale — it was a non-league game when the bowl berth was already secured; they retired Cunningham’s jersey No. 12 at halftime.

They won tough games at Long Beach State and Utah State, and hung on for a 26-20 win at home against Cal-State Fullerton. Many of the schools from the old PCAA no longer play football, but Hyde said the fight for the league title was always closely contested with no easy games.

“I won’t say our ('84) team was the best in UNLV history. That’s not fair to the other great teams,” Hyde said. “But put it this way — that had to be one of the best teams in the PCAA, ever.”

Click to enlarge photo

Running back Kirk Jones from UNLV's 1984 California Bowl championship team

Cunningham passed for 2,628 yards and 24 touchdowns, and was the PCAA’s Offensive Player of the Year. The Rebels scored 30 or more points in eight of 11 victories behind running back Kirk Jones, tight end Reggie LaFrance and wide receiver Michael McDade.

Freshman tailback Ickey Woods — yes, the Ickey Shuffling Cincinnati Bengal was a Rebel — led the way with 53 yards on nine carries in the bowl win.

The defense was equally impressive.

Moog was virtually unstoppable on the defensive line, linebackers Tom Polley and Daryl Knox were all-league picks, and Anthony Blue and Dalton Reed anchored the secondary. Polley was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1985, the same year they selected Cunningham.

At least 10 players from the 1984 team reached the NFL, including wide receiver Tony Gladney, who caught 41 passes for 692 yards and nine touchdowns in 1984. Defensive back David Hollis, linebacker Kirk Dodge, Moog, and Knox each played professionally.

Most were recruited by the charismatic Hyde, who still keeps tabs on his former players.

“We love our head coach and he loved us,” Cunningham said of Hyde. “We believed and bought into the system. When '84 came, we knew we had a great team. We had such a unified team and a great mix of guys.”

Terry Cottle, UNLV’s director of football operations, is one of the few ties connecting the current team to the 1984 squad and other bowl teams. Cottle was a graduate assistant coach in 1984 and has been on staff in some capacity since.

“That 1984 team was obviously loaded with talent and speed. And good speed,” Cottle said.

Being part of four decades of UNLV bowl appearances — UNLV won the Las Vegas Bowl in 1994 and 2000, and is a perfect 3-0 in bowl games — is a fact not lost on Cottle. He would love nothing more than to add to his championship ring collection, one that includes a ring from the California Bowl.

“It’s very, very gratifying for this group of kids,” Cottle said. “I was in the locker room after the second game against Arizona when they got after us. The kids were upset because they didn’t play well. (Coach Bobby Hauck) stood there and told them, ‘You’re a great team; keep playing.’”

And the Rebels did, winning four straight games for the first time since 1983 and eventually qualifying for a bowl.

“I call Bobby Hauck just about every Friday wishing him good luck,” Hyde said. “I’m a Rebel for life. I have four years of my life at that place. We are all still Rebels. We all bleed scarlet and gray. It’s that Rebel pride. That’s what we wore on our shirt under our jerseys.”

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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