The third-to-last time I saw Rich Abajian, the former UNLV assistant football coach and longtime Rebels uber booster whose funeral service is at 11 a.m. Sunday at South Point Arena — he died in his sleep last week at age 62 — was at Findlay Toyota, where he was general manager and part owner.
He was holding a new car contract in his hand, which he had taken into his office.
When I walked into the dealership, I was driving a Corolla. When I left, I was driving a Prius. The hybrid had seemed a bit out of my price range until Rich took the new car contract back to his office.
Hey, what about that Lexus over there?
Abajian said we were friends, but not that good of friends.
The next-to-last time I saw him was at Carmine’s Little Italy in Henderson, behind Sunset Station.
It was Rich, Sam King, Jim Sandusky, Bill Purcell, and a sports writer who tagged along to listen to them tell stories about a football game played between UNLV and Brigham Young in 1981.
Sam King was the quarterback. Jim Sandusky was his favorite receiver. Bill Purcell was a backup wide receiver. Rich Abajian was UNLV’s defensive backs coach. Sandusky and Abajian were both from Washington state — Jim from Othello, Rich from Walla Walla about 90 minutes down the road.
UNLV trailed 41-24 before King threw touchdown passes to Sandusky of 55 yards, 19 yards and 21 yards. The last one, to the corner of the end zone in the game’s dying moments, lifted the Rebels to a 45-41 victory over No. 8 BYU and Steve Young. It snapped the Cougars’ 17-game winning streak, the nation’s longest at the time. It remains UNLV’s most significant football victory in the eyes of many. In the eyes of most.
It was supposed to be lunch, but it must have been 3 p.m. when the waitress cleaned our table and we finally left. Carmine’s Little Italy was closed the last time I drove by. It wasn’t because of Rich Abajian, who left a hell of tip.
The last time I saw Rich must have been last September or October. I had brung the Prius by the dealership for an oil change. He came out of his office to talk sports, to talk about what was wrong with the Rebels.
Actually, I was the one who spoke of what was wrong with the Rebels. Rich Abajian mostly spoke of what was right with UNLV.
Just as he always did.
Tony Phillips 1959-2016
Astute baseball people will remember Tony Phillips, who died suddenly on Wednesday at age 56, for having thrown out Brett Butler at first base for the last out of the 1989 World Series. (He also hit a homer in Game 3.)
Longtime Oakland A’s broadcaster Ken Korach of Las Vegas will remember him in different ways. Korach, who was in his fourth season with the A’s when Phillips retired, said the ballplayer, unlike a lot of today’s players, always had something interesting to say.
“You always knew when Tony was in the room. He was a character,” Korach said.
But Korach said his legacy will be how other versatile ballplayers are described as Tony Phillips-type players, in the way other versatile pitchers are described as Jamie Moyer-type pitchers.
“He could play infield, outfield; he was a switch hitter; he could run.”
He could do all the little things to help his team win a game, Ken Korach said, and that is a pretty cool way for a ballplayer to be remembered.
Bowling for majors
What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas … and then, after five or six years, it is recognized at Professional Bowling Association headquarters.
In 2011, Jason Belmonte of Australia won the PBA Players Championship here, and it was a nice win and all of that, but it wasn’t considered a major win, because the bowling Players Championship had lost its major championship designation in 2000. But now it has been reinstated, and so now Belmonte — and Scott Norton and Parker Bohn III, who won it in 2013 and 2015 —- have one more major win listed on their bios in the media guide.
Which got me to thinking: If pro golf were to bestow major status on the Bridgestone Invitational, and the NEC Invitational, and a couple of these other invitationals, perhaps Tiger Woods could still catch Jack Nicklaus.
Three dots …
* Because one can never have too much curling in Las Vegas — especially if one hails from the Canadian provinces — it has been announced the World Financial Group Continental Cup will return to the Orleans Arena next Jan. 12 to 15. It will mark the third time in four years most of the world’s top curlers will be sliding the rock here — last month’s Continental Cup at the Orleans attracted an audience of 62,498, which was record attendance for a curling cup held in the U.S.
* Bryce Dejean-Jones, who played for like 19 college teams, including UNLV, and was considered something of a ball hog, has been re-signed by the New Orleans Pelicans. Dejean-Jones averaged 6.3 points and 3.5 rebounds for the Pelicans in 11 games after inking a couple of 10-day contracts. He started eight games; every now and then he passed the ball to a teammate. (He averaged 1.1 assists.)
* According to the DICK’S Sporting Goods Jersey Report — which has become slightly more relevant than the Associated Press college football poll — Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers’ replica jersey is the No. 1 seller among NFL players in Nevada, at least at DICK’S Sporting Goods stores. In a related note, the entire inventory of Johnny Manziel Cleveland Browns replica jerseys has been shipped to the Fantastic Indoor Swap Meet on Decatur Boulevard, where you can just take one when the lady behind the counter goes for a smoke.
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