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September 16, 2019

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

A final season in the sun for Sam Boyd Stadium

Nearly 50-year-old facility stirs sense of nostalgia for longtime UNLV football fans

0831_sun_UNLVSouthernUtah2

Steve Marcus

Fireworks explode at Sam Boyd Stadium before a game between UNLV and Southern Utah Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019.

2019 UNLV Opener Against Southern Utah

UNLV Rebels quarterback Armani Rogers (1) makes a 66-yard touchdown run during a game against Southern Utah at Sam Boyd Stadium Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019. Launch slideshow »

We’ve been attending events at the Silver Bowl since we were kids. It’s what we native Las Vegans do on Saturdays in the fall, navigating the side streets to the east Las Vegas stadium to watch our beloved scarlet and gray.

We remember UNLV games in the old PCAA against Long Beach State and Cal-State Fullerton.

We recall watching that lanky quarterback Randall Cunningham lead the program to some of its all-time great moments in the early 1980s, or that day in 1994 when Randy Gatewood went off to the tune of 23 catches for 363 yards against Idaho. The Rebels trailed by five touchdowns and almost rallied to win in one of those games for the ages.

Sam Boyd Stadium — locals will always call it the Silver Bowl — is in its last season hosting football before the Rebels move into the nearly $2 billion Allegiant Stadium near the Strip in 2020. Needless to say the final games at the old stadium are bringing a sense of nostalgia.

“This is home. We've been coming here forever,” said Jack Close Sr., who has been coming to games with his wife, Gaylee, since the stadium opened in 1971. Jack and Gaylee are natives and Las Vegas High grads.

There has been a spike in ticket sales with nearly 1,800 new season tickets sold for 2019, which is a 350% increase over the number of new tickets sold a year ago. That's partially because people who buy this year will lock in the same price for 2020 at the new stadium. It's also because many locals plan to cherish the final games in the only stadium they've known.

The university, to its credit, is closing the venue in style with pregame festivities for each of the six home games. On Saturday, they celebrated the 1970s in the Sam Boyd Stadium Farewell, which included shirt giveaways to fans and a pregame tribute. You couldn't help thinking about past games here.

This Rebels season feels like that final year of high school — you couldn’t wait for the much-anticipated adventures ahead but it was sad to say goodbye. Sam Boyd, for as long as we’ve complained about its location, dirt parking lot and other drawbacks, is home.

We’ve long accepted those pesky bugs that are seemingly always buzzing about on a warm September night, knowing it is part of the charm of the nearly 50-year-old facility.

The loyalists have also long accepted the underachieving Rebels, although this season — with a 56-23 win Saturday in the opener against Southern Utah — could be different. This season ends in a bowl game, right?

High school football players in the 1980s and ’90s aimed to reach a playoff game at the stadium, knowing they would have to buy non-cleated shoes at Four Seasons Sports for the turf of the college stadium. Those cool fall nights cheering for the Chaparral Cowboys in the 1990 state playoffs are cherished memories.

Other moments stand out, especially in 2000 when the Rebels had one of their most successful runs in recent memory.

They topped UNR at home before students broke the Fremont Cannon during the on-field celebration. UNLV subsequently knocked off Arkansas of the Southeastern Conference in the Las Vegas Bowl. That bowl night featured one of the best UNLV crowds in stadium history, as supporters were desperate for something to feel good about with the demise of Rebel basketball in the mid to late 1990s.

Football coach Tony Sanchez will tell you a wild 69-66 triple-overtime win against Wyoming in 2016 is a game he’ll never forget. That afternoon was the second-highest scoring game in NCAA history.

Others will cite the excitement of the 1994 season, when the Rebels went 5-1 in the Big West Conference and smashed Central Michigan in the Las Vegas Bowl, as one of their top memories. For Jack Close, it was sold-out affair against Wisconsin in 2002 when the lights went out and the game ended prematurely, or the many games against his alma mater, BYU.

The best memories didn't necessarily always happen on the field. It's socializing with other season ticket holders they sit next to, forging an instant friendship because of mutual love for UNLV.

“This is like a family. You get to know everybody,” Gaylee Close said.

One of my favorite moments: The 1989 opener against Houston when Andre Ware passed for nearly 400 yards and five touchdowns on the way to winning the Heisman Trophy. We were in awe of Houston’s run-and-shoot offense, which scored at will against the Rebels in a 69-0 win. Just an awesome display of football.

There will no doubt be plenty more memories made and awesome stories to share in the waning nights at Sam Boyd Stadium and for decades to come at Allegiant Stadium.

"We'd love to see them leave here as winners," Jack Close said.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 702-990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21

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