How many people around here wish UNLV were playing Arkansas or somebody like that in its bowl game on Wednesday morning?
(Ooh! Ooh-Ooh! That was me raising my hand and doing an Arnold Horshack impression.)
The last time UNLV played in a bowl game it was against Arkansas. It was the 2000 Las Vegas Bowl. UNLV won 31-14, and it seemed like a big deal at the time. I still can see Jason Thomas flinging that 54-yard touchdown pass to Troy Mason in the third quarter that turned the game on its ear. I still can hear the crowd roar.
It was the first time I got goosebumps at a UNLV football game. Maybe the only time.
On Wednesday, the Rebels will play North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. It’s amazing the Rebels will be playing anybody on New Year’s Day. What a turnaround! But I do not think I will get goosebumps unless Mean Joe Greene suits up for the Mean Green, for whom he once played, and tosses his jersey to Bobby Hauck in the tunnel.
(If I were Neal Smatresk, who is vacating his presidency at UNLV to assume the same job at North Texas, the first thing I would do is invite Joe Greene back for homecoming against UTEP or UTSA or one of those other four-letter schools from Conference USA. Such as Rice. Then at halftime, I would invite Mean Joe down to the field and announce the school was changing its nickname from Mean Green to Mean Greene, in his honor. Then I would paint my face Mean Greene. For Dr. Neal likes to paint his face.)
So back to the 2000 Las Vegas Bowl, the reason it seemed like such a big deal was because UNLV beat Arkansas. The first time UNLV went to a bowl game, it beat Toledo. The second time, it beat Central Michigan. Those wins were nice, but they were not big deals.
Arkansas was only 6-5 before playing UNLV. But Arkansas was from the Southeastern Conference. Before that, it was from the Southwest Conference. Arkansas has a fine football tradition. And it has those plastic pig hats. Those plastic pig hats are pretty cool. I even have one in my closet.
So Sam Boyd Stadium rocked when Jason Thomas flung that pass to Troy Mason, and it was a pretty big deal when the Rebels won. Even if Houston Nutt was the Arkansas coach.
This is why I wish the Rebels were playing Arkansas again. Even if Arkansas was only 3-9 this year, and 0-8 in the SEC. Because 10 years from now, nobody will remember that, and then if the Rebels won, Caleb Herring and Devante Davis could tell their kids they beat Arkansas in a bowl game, just as Jason Thomas and Troy Mason probably tell theirs, if they have kids.
I’m sure North Texas would rather be playing Arkansas, too.
North Texas is pretty good. It’s probably better than Arkansas. North Texas lost 45-21 to Georgia, between the hedges, when Georgia was No. 9. The Mean Green trailed 21-14 at halftime. This is probably why The Associated Press referred to the North Texas team as “pesky.” The AP also said it was a “dreary Saturday between the hedges.”
The weather is not supposed to be dreary for the Heart of Dallas Bowl. It is supposed to be 68 degrees. So that’s good. And so is the site. Cotton Bowl Stadium was built in 1930. It’s what a lot of the old sports writers call “venerable.”
It’s the house that Doak Walker built, and the house in which Joe Montana came off the bench after having a bowl of chicken soup to rally Notre Dame to a 35-34 victory over Houston in an ice storm after Notre Dame had trailed 34-12 midway through the fourth quarter.
Ty Cobb once played in the Cotton Bowl, as did Ted Nugent, and Foghat, and Diego Maradona (in the 1994 World Cup), and the Kilgore College Rangerettes. So it’s great that UNLV will get to play in the Cotton Bowl, because one day they’ll tear it down, or worse, hold flea markets there.
But here’s the deal: If North Texas vs. UNLV was on the regular-season schedule at Sam Boyd Stadium, a lot of people around here wouldn’t go. And I’m also a little worried they won’t be putting UNLV on the big screen at my local Buffalo Wild Wings, because they tend to be partial to the bigger conferences at my local BWW, and the Heart of Dallas Bowl on ESPNU is directly up against Nebraska vs. Georgia in the Gator Bowl on ESPN2. Plus, the bartender always has a conniption when you ask him to change the channel.
So this is why Bret Bielema has to whip Arkansas into shape to where the Razorbacks go 6-6 and get invited to a minor bowl. Teams like UNLV and North Texas need the Razorbacks, and I need to get rid of the plastic pig hat that has been collecting dust in my closet.
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