For those of you who have only a vague idea what UNR is about, note one thing—it hates UNLV. And being an alum of UNLV who always knew of this rivalry but never witnessed it firsthand, I decided to attend last weekend’s matchup.
For those who have only heard of the legendary atmosphere at one of these games, all I can say is, believe the hype. It starts with me walking into the interior of Sam Boyd Stadium, just missing the national anthem. Inside lies an interesting patchwork of beer-buying, seat-searching, fight-starting and shit-talking that resonates through the stadium. The only thing separating us from primal blue-on-red combat is the urge to get as drunk as possible before kick-off.
But there’s a strange spirit in the air. Red Rebel shirts are everywhere, and the excitement is high. For the first time in years, the Rebels seem like they could win the game, following stunning victories against Arizona State and Utah. I don’t know much about sports, but someone told me that those teams were actually good at playing football, so it’s a plus, and clearly the nearly sell-out crowd of 33,000 has some hope of a win.
The Rebels draw first blood. A three-point field goal seems good. But I’m concentrating on my beers and on coming up with witty new taunts for the UNR fans. For some reason, though, “You have more meth-addicted hookers than we do!” doesn’t seem to catch on with my fellow neighbors. Then again, as UNLV begins to fumble and do the apparently bad football-ish things that make them lose, the chant “Please stop sucking!” also doesn’t go over well. Chalk it up to a fear of creativity on my neighbors’ parts.
Halftime and then the third quarter fly by as UNR elevates its lead and the antsy fans in red begin to turn on their own. Red-on-red violence dots the stadium as fights divert attention from the field. Even next to me, a spirited debate about smoking nearly turns into a brawl over presidential politics.
The final quarter peaks as Reno ups its lead once again, and the crowd of red begins to fan into the wings and out to their cars, while the boys and girls in blue congeal into a giant mass. The red that filled the stadium is nearly gone, and as the Wolfpack takes its fourth such victory over the Rebels for the historic Fremont Cannon, loads of Renoans spill onto the field and run toward the players. It’s even more demoralizing as my buzz wears off and we begin our roughly half-mile trek to my car. But then again, that could also be a great description of my four-and-a-half years at UNLV.
I find it ironic that I, hardly a football fan, stayed to the bitter end, while the Rebel “faithful” skedaddled long before that. At least for fans of Rebel football, one thing is certain: If there ever was a time to declare unfettered loyalty to the team, losing in the face of a semi-impressive season thus far, clearly now would be it—at least that’s what my friends tell me.