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July 23, 2014

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In UNLV jacket reveal, Brandon Flowers is a Runnin’ Rebel with a cause

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Erik Kabik/Retna/ErikKabik.com

The Killers, with frontman Brandon Flowers, close out Day 2 of Life Is Beautiful on Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013, in downtown Las Vegas.

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A Jimmy Kimmel Instagram shot of Brandon Flowers’ UNLV jacket.

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Himself a rock star, Brandon Flowers of The Killers is an expert in who is and is not a rock star.

And the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels under Jerry Tarkanian, the crew that won the national championship …

“They were the first rock stars in my life, the starting five of the ’89 Rebels,” Flowers said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. This was two days after donning a customized letter jacket with “UNLV” stitched in small letters on the left front breast and the names of that starting five listed on the back during a performance Saturday at Reunion Park leading to the Final Four at AT&T Stadium.

Flowers took the stage appearing to wear a common UNLV letter jacket. But when he turned facing away from the audience, the back showed the message “Never Forget” and names familiar to any college hoops fan: Johnson, Augmon, Butler, Anthony and Hunt.

This quintet represented the first true heroes for Flowers, who was born in Henderson and spent most of his youth growing up in Southern Nevada (he also lived in the Utah bergs of Payson and Nephi as a kid) and is a graduate of Chaparral High School.

“It was like if my sister saw Stacey Augmon at the movies or at the mall or wherever it was, we talked about it at school all day the next day,” Flowers said, adding that his decision to have that jacket made and invoke those famous surnames was a “light-bulb moment.”

“We were asked to play this gig at the Final Four and be part of the whole March Madness campaign. … It just came to me, y’know?” Flowers said. “It was an exciting thing for me. Larry Johnson was the first sports figure I followed, and that whole team had a big impact on my life. I followed (Johnson) all the way to the NBA with the (Charlotte) Hornets and (New York) Knicks. It was a nice way to commemorate that team and that time.”

Flowers opted to focus on music and work at such jobs as a bellman at Gold Coast instead of enrolling in college, but The Killers' connection to UNLV remains manyfold. In its infancy, the band rehearsed in a performance room at the UNLV College of Fine Arts. Just last week, drummer Ronnie Vannucci was honored as the school's College of Fine Arts Alumnus of the Year.

Flowers’ original idea to recognize the most famous UNLV team ever blossomed when he asked a band rep to contact UNLV’s athletic department, where a small letter jacket was plucked from the school’s stash.

But the jacket was not small enough for a guy who is a giant in contemporary music.

“UNLV sent us the smallest letter jacket they could find, and it was still huge on me,” Flowers said, laughing. “So I found a guy in Dallas to kind of chop it up and make it fit me. They sent us the old Rebels logo and the letters to have embroidered on the back, so they were very cooperative.”

What is to happen to the jacket now?

“I haven’t thought about it yet. I try to keep all my jackets in a nice, safe place,” Flowers said, chuckling again. “But if UNLV wants it and wants to display it, I’d be down.”

On Friday night, Flowers was at a Don Henley concert in Dallas and spotted Greg Anthony in the audience.

“I thought of saying something to him, but I kept my distance,” Flowers said. “I did not want to ruin the surprise.”

Flowers might wear the jacket again. But the scene has to be right.

“I don’t know, maybe I’ll wear it again if I see a Rebels game and eat at Metro Pizza before,” he said. “You know, sort of show it off.”

It would be a move befitting a rock star.

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