This is how his email began:
“Forty-four years ago, and it still bothers me when this week rolls around …”
Forty-four years ago, it was 1969. Bullets were flying in Southeast Asia. And Mark Larson said it was getting dark at Mackay Stadium up in Reno.
And there weren’t any lights at Mackay in those days.
It was the second year UNLV had fielded a football team. It was the first time it was called that. The first season, in 1968, it was called Nevada Southern.
Mark Larson, who was the Rebels’ tight end — recruited out of Bakersfield, Calif., he also played basketball for UNLV when Rolland Todd was coach — said he still has an old gray T-shirt with “Property of NSU” stencilled on it.
It was the first time UNLV played UNR in football.
It wasn’t such a big deal then. Well, maybe it was a big deal for the coaches, because most of the UNLV coaches were from up there, or had started their careers at UNR.
There wasn’t even a Fremont Cannon in 1969; it didn’t become spoils for the UNLV-UNR victor until their second meeting in 1970.
For the UNLV players, a game against Idaho State two weeks earlier was of much more consequence. The Rebels had heard of Idaho State. Idaho State had “Flea” Bell.
Eddie Bell would go on to play five seasons as a wide receiver for the New York Jets when Joe Namath was quarterback. And the Rebels had beaten Idaho State, 35-31. That was huge.
The following week, the Rebels beat Hiram Scott, which sounds more like a whiskey than a private liberal arts college from Nebraska, 36-28. That wasn’t as huge.
They were leading UNR 28-27 late. It was getting darker by the minute when Rich Logan, a Rebels defensive back from Rancho High School, stepped in front of a pass along the UNR sideline.
“I’ll never forget it. They threw one in the flat, and I read it,” Logan said.
And then he was running toward the end zone. All alone. Like ol’ man Willie Brown against the Vikings in the Super Bowl, only with fewer bars on his face mask.
And then he went down.
“I was all by myself,” Rich Logan said.
Well, not exactly.
More on that in a minute.
Anyway, the Rebels still had the ball, and all they had to do was have Don Kennedy, their 5-foot-7-inch left-handed quarterback, take a couple of knees and run out the clock.
Penalty flags had been thrown.
They had been thrown before, during or after Logan’s interception. Nobody knows for sure, because it was dark. And because you know how those zebras are in Reno.
Larson said one of the UNLV defensive ends — Frank Provensal — had been called for holding. After a lengthy discussion, UNR was allowed to keep the football.
During this lengthy discussion, it had gotten darker at Mackay Stadium.
With 1:01 to go, a fellow wearing a blue shirt named John Barnes, who already had scored two touchdowns on short runs, lined up for a 33-yard field goal.
There was a thump of kicking shoe against football.
There were parallel arms held skyward.
UNR 30, UNLV 28.
Gloom had turned to doom for UNLV, because it was decided that John Barnes had made that kick in the shadows of night.
The refs might have been the only ones who saw it, said Hall of Fame sportswriter Royce Feour, who covered the game for the Review-Journal.
“From the press box, you couldn’t tell if it was good or not,” Feour said of the murky conditions.
After the game, the coaches from both sides had gotten together for a few beers, because this was 1969, when you could do that after a game.
One of the UNR coaches told one of the UNLV coaches that Rich Logan hadn’t tripped over his own feet.
One of the Wolf Pack graduate assistants had stuck out his leg and tripped Logan.
Larson said you could see it on the game film when the Rebels returned to Las Vegas.
“I have this fantasy that was Chris Ault,” he said of the legendary UNR coach who retired after last season. “He would have been a graduate assistant then.”
Actually, according to his biography, Ault was coaching at Bishop Manogue High School in 1969. But this is something you could envision him doing, because Chris Ault would do just about anything to beat UNLV.
Mark Larson and Rich Logan are now 66 years old. Both are fit. When I met them Wednesday at Rebel Park, Logan was wearing his 1969 game jersey. No. 23. Scarlet with gray stripes on the sleeve, like Ohio State.
It still fit.
Larson is a UNLV football and basketball season-ticket holder who still goes to all the games; Logan thinks UNLV should recruit more local kids. Logan wound up working for Larson in the local juvenile court system.
On Nov. 22, 1969, in the fading light of day, they were teammates. It has been 44 years.
They still aren’t sure if that field goal was good.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski