Having witnessed the recent UNLV-Hawaii football game at Sam Boyd Stadium as well as Saturday night’s third annual Monster Energy Cup at the little stadium on the outskirts of town, I have come to the conclusion that UNLV would be better off if Tim Cornett were allowed to ride a 450cc dirt bike on game days.
A Honda or a Suzuki or one of those Kawasakis like that dude Ryan Villopoto rides. Or even a Yamaha.
Cornett rushed for 162 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries in the Rebels’ last-second win over Hawaii. It was the fourth straight victory for UNLV, the first time the Rebels had won that many games in a row during the regular season since 1984.
The announced crowd was a measly 22,755.
Contrast that to Saturday night, when virtually every seat in the little stadium on the outskirts of town was occupied by a Ryan Villopoto fan, or by fans of the other riders. And tickets (starting at $56) weren’t cheap.
Most of the female fans wore tank tops. Most of the male ones appeared to be monsterly energized by the tank tops of the female fans.
The guy sitting behind me in the press box was sporting a giant Mohawk.
So it would be cool if Tim Cornett got a chance to play in front of a home crowd like that. Even were it sporting giant Mohawks.
Plus, can you imagine how fast Cornett would be on top of a 450cc Kawasaki dirt bike with knobby tires? Those defensive backs from UNR would never catch him.
Two things I learned Saturday night before my Monster Energy buzz kicked in:
First, the aforementioned Villopoto dude this year became the fourth rider in supercross history to win three consecutive championships in the featured 250cc class, joining Ricky Carmichael, Jeremy McGrath and Bob “Hurricane” Hannah.
(Hannah won his three straight titles from 1977 through 1979 and is now 57 years old, meaning he probably has broken his collarbone at least 138 times.)
Second thing learned: The caffeine content of a 16-ounce can of Monster Energy is 160 mg; there’s a warning label on the can advising consumers not to guzzle more than 48 ounces of the stuff per day or they may launch themselves into lunar orbit.
When supercross started in 1972, it was considered one of the first extreme sports before anybody even knew what an extreme sport was. There was no Monster Energy in those days, at least not the kind you could buy in the 24-ounce can.
A lot of people who follow the stick-and-ball sports might refer to supercross and big brother motocross as niche sports. But the Monster Energy Cup offered $1 million to the rider who could win all three heats (as that Villopoto dude did in 2011). That’s a niche with a lot of zeros.
Combining the speed of motocross and the technical elements of supercross, the Monster Energy Cup is by invitation only; only the best 22 dirt-bike riders get to compete. Think of it in terms of pro golf’s Skins Game, only a whole lot louder and energized.
Even the national anthem was loud and energized.
It was played in a high-octane style by a guy on a electric guitar that was sort of reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, and then (after two aborted starts) it was time for the first of the three main events.
Villopoto sped around the jumps and whoop-de-doos as if he had exceeded the daily recommended requirement of Monster Energy. He grabbed the hole shot (first to the first turn) and led all 10 laps, though he crossed the line second.
His nearest competitor, 2010 Supercross series champ Ryan Dungey, forgot to ride through the “Joker Lane” — a section of the track comprised of teeth-chattering moguls — as required; Dungey was penalized and slapped his helmet in disgust when Villopoto pulled alongside and called him Heath Ledger.
But in the second main, Villopoto became Jack Nicholson as The Joker, or Cesar Romero as The Joker. (I’m sure Hurricane Hannah remembers Cesar Romero as The Joker.)
While trying to overhaul leader James Stewart on the final lap — the two had waged a splendid, lead-swapping duel — it was Villopoto who overshot the Joker Lane. And then in his haste to catch up, he crashed in spectacular fashion. Villopoto flipped right over the handlebars.
The people who were hopped on Monster Energy, and the female fans in the tank tops (now worn under jackets), groaned.
That left the door open for the other riders heading into main event No. 3, and it was Stewart, the 27-year-old 2009 Supercross kingpin from Florida, who sped and jumped through. By winning two of the three main events, he was crowned Monster Energy Cup champion.
Afterward, Stewart thanked his family and he thanked his team and he thanked all those fans for coming out. He appeared monsterly energized, even more than Tim Cornett was vs. Hawaii.
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.