I call it The Roar, that sound you hear at a live sporting event when the home team does something so wonderful, unexpected or sublime that the crowd spontaneously exults as one. The Roar washes over you like a tsunami, or at least like when the “heavies” are breaking at Banzai Pipeline, and then you get this tingly sensation, as if somebody is working over your spine with a feather duster.
I have heard The Roar only once at a UNLV football game, mostly because over the past 25 seasons, the Rebels’ football team hasn’t been roar-worthy, and also because to experience The Roar, you first must be outside, in the middle of it, and not behind the insulating glass of a press box.
But on Dec. 21, 2000, I remember standing in the end zone seats at Sam Boyd Stadium late in the third quarter of Las Vegas Bowl IX, when the Rebels somehow were tied with Arkansas of the mighty Southeastern Conference. And the crowd was really into it — had been really into it since just before halftime when Jason Thomas, UNLV’s mercurial left-handed quarterback, had absorbed a late hit on the sideline and spit into the face mask of the Razorback he thought responsible.
With all due respect to Keith Hernandez and Roger McDowell and the cast of “Seinfeld,” this was the true “Magic Loogie,” because seconds later it was 14-14.
And then Thomas was scrambling and running around like a madman — like he used to even when not being pressured by angry Razorbacks — and then I remember him cocking his arm and throwing the football as far as he could. And this time, it was a spiral.
And way down the field, so far down I couldn’t see it, a (sort of) intended Rebels pass receiver named Troy Mason apparently caught the distant speck for a touchdown, because why else would all these end zone people be pounding on my back?
It was then I heard The Roar.
It was followed by The Spinal Shiver and then a look around the crowd, which was going crazy, like when UNR comes to town and everybody gets liquored up beforehand. But this was better, because everybody was liquored up on football. UNLV football.
And I remember thinking, “Can this really be happening?”
It was happening, and the Arkansas fans with the plastic pig hats on their heads might as well have headed back to Arkadelphia and Bald Knob and Black Oak right then and there, because home teams do not lose after hearing The Roar.
“I remember in the postgame press conference, sitting there and saying ‘You know, the Southeastern Conference has some pretty good teams, but they couldn’t stand up to the Mountain West if they had to play us every week,” then-UNLV coach John Robinson told a big crowd on Tuesday at the Texas de Brazil restaurant in Town Square.
And the big crowd roared — although not nearly as loud as on that night — as delectable chunks of Brazilian chicken, steak and lamb were skewered onto plates as the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas announced its inaugural Hall of Fame class, and that tickets are on sale for Las Vegas Bowl XX on Dec. 22.
Any coach who leads UNLV to a 31-14 bowl game victory over Arkansas in his second season deserves to go into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Joining Robinson in the first class are former Las Vegas Bowl Most Valuable Players Anthony Calvillo and Steven Jackson of Utah State and Oregon State, respectively, and Rossi Ralenkotter of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, one of the game’s founding fathers.
Calvillo and Eldorado High’s Jackson still are throwing and scoring touchdowns as professionals for the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes and the NFL’s St. Louis Rams, respectively, and Ralenkotter told the Brazilian leg-of-lamb enthusiasts that the first 19 Las Vegas Bowls have attracted 355,000 spectators who have left behind $177 million in nongaming revenue during what used to be a slow month for tourism.
These are statistics that might have reduced Jason Thomas’ 54-yard pass to Troy Mason to a line of agate type in the box score, were it not for The Roar.
“We were really good that night,” Robinson said with a twinkle in his eye and an emphasis on the word “really,” as if he, too, still couldn’t believe it really happened.
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.