You have to admire the loyalty, not to mention the dedication, of Dana X. Marshall.
The 15-year resident of Las Vegas has season tickets for three football teams - the Rebels of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the Gophers of the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League. Last year, Marshall said, the combined record of these teams was eight wins and 32 losses.
Yet there was Marshall and his girlfriend, Juana Jordan, on a grassy field behind Sam Boyd Stadium on the hot afternoon of the Sept. 22 Air Force game, when the Rebels were trying to do something about an 0-3 record. It wasn't an unusual situation for Marshall; he's been tailgating with the same group for about 10 years. And, since UNLV hasn't had a winning season in football since 2000 ... well, you get the idea.
"It's hard," Jordan conceded, "but I see them showing a lot of pride. They have a lot of heart. They're playing with the bond - the bond of football."
(And in case you're wondering, when UNLV played Minnesota Aug. 30, Marshall was rooting for the Gophers; he still wears his ring from a Gophers championship year. But he said he had to keep catching himself from yelling, "C'mon, UNLV!")
Mingle among the tailgaters who gather in the fields and parking lots around the stadium before a game and one thing is clear: Among this crowd, hope does indeed spring eternal.
"We're losing by fewer points," said Mike "Doc" Clauretie, a UNLV finance professor who should, after all, know how to do the numbers. "That's progress."
"The quarterback shows promise, for the first time in years," said Clauretie, who organized his tailgating group in 1995. "We're very optimistic about the future because of him."
But hasn't it been hard to watch all of those losses?
"Yeah, it kind of is," said Alex Arogonez, a UNLV alum and "hard-core Rebel supporter" who has been a tailgater for 15 or 20 years. "We trust the UNLV athletic department. We know, sooner or later, they're going to put a good product on the field."
This particular group got together through Rebelnet. They're really UNLV basketball fans, most of them are quick to tell a visitor. And, as Clauretie pointed out, "basketball is right around the corner."
But this afternoon was in the here and now, and it was all about Rebel football.
"It's rough," said Grant Wright, who has been with the same tailgating group for 11 years. "It makes it a little bit harder. We never know how many people are going to show up, 20 to 100. If the team was 2-2, we'd probably have 200 people."
"Every year, it starts with 60 to 70," said Ronnie Luneza, the designated cook, who was grilling carne asada on this weekend when the group had chosen a Mexican theme. "And by the end of the year, it's just the die-hards, 10 to 15."
It was obvious that they take their bright spots where they can. Luneza said the Sept. 14 Washington State University game was encouraging.
"The offense had opened up," he said. "They kept competing."
Drew Nellen said, "You look for the little things. Plus, we get to see a lot of great teams."
On the next space, where veteran tailgater Bob Zaniewski was cooking for his group, he said that tailgating, for him, meant getting together with his son and his best friend, along with a group of extended friends. He praised the school's administration in supporting the program. Zaniewski said he registered early because prizes would be awarded, and he won second prize - the site. And with sites ranging from $100 for a single game to $600 for the season, that was a pretty good incentive.
But as Zaniewski cooked, he seemed a little nervous.
"We would hate for something to happen to the football" program, he said. "It's something we look forward to every year. Yeah, we'd like them to win."
Jan "No Laverty" Jones, a tailgater of 20 to 25 years who calls herself "the No. 1 Rebel fan of all time" and was at the game despite a broken wrist, said she thought the Rebels had been competitive during both the Minnesota game and the one against Northern Arizona University on Sept. 8 (she missed the Sept. 15 Washington State game because of her injury). And she expected that a win was right around the corner.
"It was good football," Jones said. "If we stay competitive, that will happen."
From your mouth to God's ear, Jan. The Rebels went on to beat Air Force 38-35, although they lost the following week to Utah State, 35-13. And on Saturday, they'll take on archrival University of Nevada, Reno.
"Any football," said fellow tailgater Mike Garth, "is good football."
Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0474.