Las Vegas Sun

March 26, 2019

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Biggest Tom Wiesner tribute yet to come

About 2,500 people filled UNLV's Cox Pavilion on Tuesday afternoon to memorialize former Regent Tom Wiesner, who died of luekemia June 25. But a better testament to the man affectionately known as "Big Dog" might come on the night of Aug. 31.

That is when Wisconsin -- the team Wiesner captained to the 1960 Rose Bowl -- faces a UNLV football program he also played a major role in building. A record crowd is expected at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Just call it the Wiesner Bowl.

"That was all Tom's deal," Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said of his team's upcoming visit for the non-conference matchup. "He was the greatest ambassador for Las Vegas, especially for Wisconsin people. He really was very instrumental and very aggressive about us coming out here.

"They've been putting together junkets for two years for this game. But if it wasn't for Tom and his persistence, I'm sure it wouldn't have happened."

Wiesner, a former Wisconsin state athlete of the year, was generous not only in supporting his alma mater, but also his adopted hometown college of UNLV. He was inducted into the Nevada Sports Hall of Fame in 2000 and has a street -- Wiesner Way -- named after him near Sam Boyd Stadium.

"What was really impressive about Tom is that nobody knew all the things he did out here," Wisconsin athletic director Pat Richter said. "He was willing to help anybody. We're very proud that he's from Wisconsin."

It was Wiesner who started the annual Badger Desert Golf Classic in Las Vegas 10 years ago. It has become a huge fundraiser for his alma mater.

"He was a close friend of the program," Alvarez said. "He was so loyal to our state and the football program and the university. That golf tournament he put together was our best fundraiser. It also was the most fun and the one people looked forward to the most.

"Even though he lived an awful long ways away, he was there and he was a part of our program. He would come to all our key functions and all the big games. He was at all the bowl games. He was always right in the middle of the party."

UNLV athletic director/football coach John Robinson said the Rebels will institute an annual Tom Wiesner Award, to be given to the senior football player who characterizes the courage and toughness Wiesner showed during his lengthy battle with leukemia.

"(Every year) before our first game, the coaching staff and the seniors will pick the player they think fits that criteria," Robinson said. "Then just before kickoff (of the opener), the Wiesner family will present that player with a special jersey that honors Tom."

Per NCAA rules, that player must continue to wear his own number, not Wiesner's old No. 38. But Robinson said a special patch will adorn that player's uniform.

The first Tom Wiesner Award will be presented Aug. 31 when Wisconsin plays UNLV in the game he was so instrumental in arranging.

"I'm sure Tom will have the best seat in the house," Alvarez said."