Golden Knights galvanize Las Vegas like UNLV Rebels of old

Updated May 4, 2018 - 5:58 pm

Ron Futrell was in a hardware store Friday, picking up a three-eighths socket wrench, when he was asked how the Golden Knights were going to fare in Game 5 of their Western Conference semifinal series against the San Jose Sharks.

The longtime Las Vegas sportscaster said it reminded him of the UNLV basketball team’s days of wine, roses and Larry Johnson.

“You’d go to the bank, and everybody would be wearing Rebel red, and they’d ask how the Rebels were going to do against Oklahoma, against LSU,” Futrell said. “I think what is happening (with the Knights) is similar. The most important part is that it is uniting the community like UNLV basketball did.”

When Jerry Tarkanian’s Rebels defeated Duke 103-73 and made Bobby Hurley cry (slight exaggeration) in winning the NCAA basketball championship on April 2, 1990, Marc-Andre Fleury was 5 years old.

William Karlsson was minus-3.

Gerard Gallant was 26 and wreaking havoc on left wing for the Detroit Red Wings. The Knights’ coach scored 36 goals with 44 assists and a career-high 254 penalty minutes in 1989-90. Like Georgia Tech and Duke before going up against the Rebels in Denver, the other hockey teams might have seen Gallant coming, but there wasn’t a whole lot they could do about it.

Long dry spell

It has been 28 years — 27 if you count the Rebels’ Final Four return in 1991 when they lost to Duke — since a local sports team has captivated and galvanized the city in the manner of the Golden Knights.

Yes, there was excitement when Mountain Ridge made it to the Little League World Series in 2014. But it lasted only 10 days. Then the UNLV football season started.

It was a fantastic achievement, but they were only kids, and it’s different with kids.

One didn’t bump into sporting people wearing Austin Kryszczuk jerseys at Ace Hardware, or having one’s car washed at Terrible Herbst.

“I don’t think you’ll ever replicate the buzz the Rebels had, but you take that back to the first Final Four (in 1977) and it lasted all the way to ‘91,” said 51s president and longtime Las Vegas sports scene observer Don Logan. “To sustain something for that long … is what put Vegas on the map.

“But everybody in the country is talking about the Knights, and it took years for everybody to talk about the Rebels.”

Social media may not have changed how games are played, but it sure makes it easier to organize a viewing party.

Enjoy the moment

Sometimes memory is clouded by the passage of time. It’s easy to say this thing or that one was biggest or best when one is living in that thing or that one’s moment.

It’s like the Beatles and Michael Jackson. If one is fortunate to experience both, one should just enjoy the ride.

As chief inspector of the Nevada Athletic Commission during the Rebels’ national championship season (before he became executive director), Marc Ratner had his finger on the pulse of the local sports landscape, as well as on the clock at Rebels’ games as an official timekeeper.

“I was actually thinking about this (Thursday), how the city has come to love this team, because that’s the way it was with the Rebels,” Ratner said. “I was excited as one of the clock operators; I’d get there before 5 for a 7 p.m. game.”

As vice president of regulatory affairs for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Ratner said the vibe is similar with the Golden Knights. He sees the storefront marquees wishing the Knights well, fans wearing the team’s gear, a giant Knights flag waving atop UFC headquarters and says it’s like walking into a time tunnel.

“They’ve swept away the town, and I haven’t seen anything like this since the old Rebels,” Ratner said.

Or the old Bonedaddys.

The Bonedaddys were a Los Angeles African beatnik band appearing at a pub in Vancouver, British Columbia, during the Rebels’ 1991 Final Four run. On the off day during the West Regional in Seattle, four Las Vegas media types piled into a rental car to watch the Canucks play the first iteration of the Winnipeg Jets for the 16th and final NHL playoff spot.

It was as if we had seen the handwriting on the wall.

Nearly three decades later, Marc Ratner and I were talking hockey again. Only this time we were living in the moment. And wondering whatever happened to the Bonedaddys.

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

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