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[The Sports Issue]

North or South? Grappling with divided sports loyalties

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The annual gridiron battle for the Fremont Cannon is as good a time as any to finally choose a side.
Photo: Sam Morris

When my family moved to Las Vegas in the late 1980s, basketball was my life. If I wasn’t playing early-morning, beat-the-heat games of 3-on-3 with friends, I was watching my Detroit Pistons win back-to-back championships. Those were the years when the Runnin’ Rebels were dominating college basketball. It was a phenomenon, all anyone could talk about. Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon were the kings of our universe.

After I finished high school, I decided to go north for college. Much of my time was spent at Mackay Stadium for football games and Lawlor Events Center for basketball games. I covered sports for the student newspaper and became a passionate Wolf Pack fan; I went to baseball games and track meets and volleyball matches.

Now I’m back in Vegas, and I’m torn. It’s exciting to see Colin Kaepernick kicking ass for the 49ers, even though he wasn’t in Reno when I went to school there. It’s also cool to witness the Rebels’ return to basketball glory. But I can’t root for both schools; the north-south rivalry won’t allow it.

One of my best friends has a similar dilemma, but his decision’s been made. Chad Hartley is assistant athletics director for media services at the University of Nevada, but he went to high school with me in Vegas. His family moved here from Nebraska right after UNLV lost to Duke in the 1991 basketball final. He was a Rebel fan, who spent his college years in Reno. “I got up there in the fall of ’95, when the rivalry became especially intense,” he says. “That was the year that [UNLV player] Quincy Sanders threw his helmet at [Nevada coach] Chris Ault. To me, that was the time when you had to make a decision, pick a side. I’m a Nevada guy.” Regardless of his current job, Chad says he would still feel that way. He’s a Nevada grad; he’s all Pack.

Where do my loyalties lie? Can I piecemeal my support, cheer for UNLV basketball and Nevada football? I think not. I’m not the only one with this problem: Lots of Nevadans switch cities for college like I did, and Chad told me about friends from Elko, northerners who grew up cheering for UNLV because they’re 300 miles from Reno.

I don’t have a unique excuse; after being back in Las Vegas for almost 15 years, I’ve been putting off this decision for too long. Maybe the team that takes the Fremont Cannon this year will also win my support. Is that fair?

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Brock Radke is Las Vegas Weekly's food editor and author of the Strip-focused column The Incidental Tourist. He has written ...

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