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Appetite for big-time college football increases in Las Vegas

What goes around often comes around. And when it does, sometimes it is bigger and better and new and improved.

In 2001, ESPN got into the college football bowl business by purchasing the Las Vegas Bowl from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. ESPN Events now owns, operates and televises 14 postseason classics, provided the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl can be considered a postseason classic.

The broadcast subsidiary also puts on opening weekend neutral site games featuring intersectional powers, or at least teams of which the average fan has heard. This year, Alabama beat Louisville 51-14 in the Camping World Kickoff and Mississippi downed Texas Tech 47-27 in the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff.

One of the main topics of discussion at last week’s Las Vegas Bowl kickoff luncheon was the game moving up in stature with a new conference tie (or ties) once Las Vegas Stadium is built and current bowl game contracts expire.

Might there also be a new kickoff classic featuring a West Coast team after the parking situation is rectified?

“We have had a series of discussions (with the NFL’s Raiders) about what opportunities there may be in the western region of the country to create and activate that type of opportunity,” Pete Derzis, senior vice president for ESPN Events, said before bread was broken and checks for blocks of Las Vegas Bowl tickets were written at Vinyl at the Hard Rock Hotel.

“It’s wonderful to see the cranes and the venue going up, but it’s a little premature.”

But even when the cranes go away, obstacles might remain before Southern California or Boise State are matched against a Southeastern Conference team in Las Vegas, or perhaps even against each other, in another kickoff classic.

“They are very expensive to put together, and you need a lot of scheduling goodwill and frankly a lot of luck to make it work,” Derzis said. “I’ll also say there are schools that are maybe moving away from the neutral site model because of the investment they’ve made in the growth of their own stadiums.

“It’s an interesting dynamic. I’m not sure how it will play out. But we’re certainly looking at the opportunity.”

Wall balls

After throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before one of the 51s’ final games at Cashman Field, Jerry DeSimone said his claim to fame as an original Las Vegas Star was transforming home runs into doubles. Which is unusual for a middle infielder.

During the Stars’ inaugural season in 1983, the outfield walls at Cashman were 10 feet high. The next year, they were 20.

“My first year I hit 10 home runs,” said the longtime Las Vegan, who touched ’em all 28 times during a six-year minor league career. “I was at the Clark County Commission meeting when they said ‘Jerry DeSimone hit 10 home runs; the walls need to go up.’

“(51s executive Don) Logan wanted to sell more advertising. But that’s what they used as an excuse.”

Current Clark County commissioner Larry Brown, who pitched for the Stars in the first Pacific Coast League game in Cashman Field history, remembers it differently.

“It was really because I gave up so many home runs over the shorter wall,” Brown said.

Brown yielded only four gopher balls in 1983 and 12 in 1984, so I’m siding with DeSimone.

Crewe cut

Burt Reynolds rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries as a freshman at Florida State (where he roomed with ESPN’s Lee Corso) before his budding college football career was curtailed by injuries. That’s probably why he seemed a natural to play Paul “Wrecking” Crewe, the incarcerated quarterback for the Mean Machine in the original “The Longest Yard.”

It was the most memorable sporting performance by the iconic actor, who died Thursday at age 82.

Reynolds also appeared as coach Nate Scarborough in the “The Longest Yard” remake starring Adam Sandler. He had roles in other sports-themed movies such as “Semi-Tough” and “Mystery, Alaska” in which a bunch of pond hockey players wind up facing off against the New York Rangers.

The mustachioed Reynolds also played a paraplegic auto racing team owner in “Driven” — he was co-owner of the Skoal Bandit NASCAR team in real life — for which he was nominated for a Golden Raspberry.

But that does nothing to diminish the climactic scene in “The Longest Yard” when Burt Reynolds bootlegged right, reversed field left and vaulted into the end zone for the winning TD.

Mean Machine 36, Prison Guards 35!


Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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