Joan Dimmitt had a dream, or maybe it was a premonition.
In her vision, several weeks ago, she saw a motorcyclist weaving through traffic.
The man on the bike turned out to be UNLV football coach Bobby Hauck, and on the back of his ride was a capital letter “D.”
She shared her dream with others long before that second Sunday in December when her vision became a reality. UNLV indeed is heading to Big D, accepting an invitation to the Heart of Dallas Bowl to play North Texas on New Year’s Day.
It’s been that kind of dream season for those who have anguished with Rebels football. It’s not a large group of supporters, certainly not as big as those who follow basketball, but UNLV football has a core base of fans who are no less committed.
They have waited for 13 years since UNLV’s last postseason appearance, the 2000 Las Vegas Bowl, and a stretch of seven two-victory records in nine seasons entering this one.
Kevin Thomas played on that last bowl team, the UNLV Hall of Fame cornerback who also played four seasons with the Buffalo Bills. He lives in Dallas, so this is an especially rewarding season for Thomas, who will be at the game.
“Man, it’s exciting,” Thomas said. “It’s where our program needs to be at. Hopefully, it’s the start of many. We should be in bowl games every year.”
Thomas had been worried the program was headed in the opposite direction, saying he was particularly concerned Hauck wasn’t recruiting well. Now Thomas said he is encouraged about the kinds of players the Rebels are signing, and also sees how a young team has grown into a competent veteran group.
Thomas sees some parallels with his old 2000 team, which gained confidence as the season went on.
“You’ve got Caleb (Herring) throwing the ball around, and you’ve got (Devante) Davis catching touchdowns,” Thomas said. “Everybody feeds off of that. You can tell the kids are riding high right now.”
Some backers have been there from the beginning when UNLV played its first season in 1968. Athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy and former two-time UNLV Football Foundation president Chuck Davison are among them.
Kunzer-Murphy remembers watching games at old Cashman Field before the Rebels moved into their current digs in 1971 at what is now called Sam Boyd Stadium.
“I’ve watched every game out at UNLV,” Kunzer-Murphy said.
She was in her first year as the Las Vegas Bowl executive director when Kunzer-Murphy and her staff were able to invite UNLV to the 2000 game.
The program appeared to be on the rise in its second season under veteran coach John Robinson, who led the Rebels to bowl eligibility just a season after going 3-8, and two years after UNLV went 0-11 under Jeff Horton.
Instead, the Rebels didn’t record another winning record until this season, going 7-5 in the regular season.
“We all talked about how we really wanted to get them back in the game,” Kunzer-Murphy said. “We had it in the contract between the Las Vegas Bowl and the conference office that we couldn’t take UNLV more than like once every four years. We took that out of the contract the last couple of go-rounds. We’re just glad that we’re going to a bowl.”
Davison owns 16 season tickets and travels to away games. He has given more than his money to the program; he also has given his heart.
Year after brutal year.
“I was there for the very first practice,” Davison said.
He is feeling not merely joy, but a touch of vindication. He stood behind Hauck as the right choice made by previous athletic director Jim Livengood, a position in which Davison found himself increasingly in the minority as the losses mounted.
“Obviously, it was the right choice,” Davison said. “It’s very gratifying to be able to see somebody stay with (Hauck), and now we’re on our way to a bowl game. Could anyone imagine we’d be playing in Dallas, Texas, in this bowl? It’s just a phenomenal feeling for me.”
Now Davison has hope.
He was truly worried that outgoing UNLV president Neal Smatresk, who takes over the same post at bowl opponent North Texas on Feb. 3, would dissolve the program.
“I was very much concerned,” Davison said. “Like anything else, you have to put the time and the effort into it. We have to have a team before the (new) stadium comes. We have to have somebody that has a winning record that Las Vegas people will come and watch. They’re not going to come just because it’s a stadium. You have to have a winner in that stadium.”
UNLV has been working to build a new stadium, and a committee that includes community leaders has been formed to construct one.
Fans have been slow to turn out to the stadium the Rebels call home now, even with the success this season. Average home attendance this season was 17,212.
This isn’t a new story, of course, and attracting large crowds probably will require more than one season of winning.
Tim Peters, a Las Vegas native and fan since the early 1980s, hopes so. He said he has heard reasons and excuses for many years from friends who didn’t want to drive to Sam Boyd Stadium.
He is a fan who loves the program so much that he helps the sports-information office on game days.
“To be honest, if I didn’t get involved with the program, I don’t think I would’ve stayed as much of a fan as I have been,” Peters said. “But it certainly has been difficult through the years, especially when you consider that they haven’t gotten the support that basketball received.
“I’m just happy to see progress being made. I don’t expect to compete for a BCS title. I just want to see competitive football. I’d like to see them compete for the conference title.”
That would be another dream season if UNLV can go after a Mountain West crown.
Maybe Joan Dimmitt will have another premonition next season about Hauck speeding on his way to Boise.
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.