Friday, Aug. 30, 2002 | 10:10 a.m.
More than 40,000 fans will pile into Sam Boyd Stadium for UNLV's season opener against No. 23 Wisconsin Saturday night.
It's exactly what the late Tom "Big Dog" Wiesner wanted.
Wiesner, a former University Regent and Clark County Commissioner devoted to both Wisconsin, his alma mater, and UNLV, his adopted school, died June 25 after a lengthy bout with leukemia.
"It's like (Wisconsin) coach (Barry) Alvarez said at the memorial," said Wiesner's son, Kurt. "He'd be proud of everything."
Kurt Wiesner, mother Lynn and sister Kari Lynn will be presented with a special half-UNLV, half-Wisconsin jersey prior to kickoff. It will feature Big Dog No. 38, to honor the man responsible for starting the UNLV-Wisconsin series in 1986.
"His No. 1 goal was to get UNLV on the road to becoming a big powerhouse and having a great program like Wisconsin has," Kurt Wiesner said. "And a big step in getting there was having UNLV play teams like Wisconsin.
"So to make that connection and have this game every couple of years is huge for both teams."
Senior offensive guard Tony Terrell, the first recipient of the Tom Wiesner Award, will wear a special jersey with a patch commemorating Wiesner's name and number.
"Obviously, I think it's sad that he won't be there," UNLV coach John Robinson said. "But any time as a man you do stuff that goes (beyond your life), that's pretty good."
"Tom meant a great deal to me. I only knew him for three years but when I came here he was one of the first people who offered his hand and said, 'Hey, I'll help you.' "
Born in Wausau, Wis., the former fullback and linebacker captained the Badgers to the 1959 Big 10 title and the 1960 Rose Bowl.
Although he remained a huge Wisconsin booster, Wiesner moved to Las Vegas in 1963 and ingrained himself in the community.
Wisconsin athletic director Pat Richter, Wiesner's Badger teammate, marveled at how he supported both schools.
Richter said Wiesner annually returned to Madison for the school's letter winners banquet and started a Badgers golf outing 11 years ago to raise money for the athletic department.
"Tom was a tremendous person," Richter said. "He was a co-captain when I was a sophomore.
"He was a great player, competitor, leader and a tough kid. He was very unique in the sense that he not only kept strong ties with Wisconsin, but he was also involved in his community out there. Not that many people would bridge that gap."
Kurt Wiesner, born and raised in Las Vegas, has fond memories of attending UNLV football and basketball games. But at home, he was surrounded by Wisconsin memorabilia.
When asked who Tom would be rooting for when the teams clashed, Kurt wasn't sure.
"You know, I can't say," he said. "Maybe I think it would be like if he was at Wisconsin, he'd root for Wisconsin and if he were at UNLV, he'd root for UNLV.
"I think he was just real happy that it is a huge game for both teams. His efforts were concentrated on making UNLV a bigger and better program. He already won by getting the game together, that's how I think he looked at it."
UNLV is scheduled to play at Wisconsin in 2003 and host the Badgers again in 2007.
"We would all like to see it continue," Kurt Wiesner said of the series. "It's tough when you lose a guy who has put it all together so it's going to take a little teamwork from all sides to make sure this continues.
"It can't just be Tom Wiesner any more, making sure this happens. We hope that the universities just continue to keep a relationship going and keep playing these games. It would be great."