Their names are Tom Kemp and Len Schweitzer, UNLV football fans for the longest time, and that is putting it more mildly than a breeze that had begun to waft over the rim of Sam Boyd Stadium on Saturday night.
Tom is 80; Len is 81. They once lived in the same neighborhood, near Jones Boulevard and the U.S. 95 freeway. Tom resides in Anthem now.
They witnessed UNLV’s first football game on Sept. 14, 1968, a victory over Saint Mary’s. They witnessed the most recent one Saturday night, and they have witnessed just about every UNLV home football game in between.
That is why Tom Kemp and Len Schweitzer deserve some kind of medal.
After enduring the Rebels’ latest debacle, a 33-30 defeat in overtime to small fry Idaho, they also may deserve any lovely parting gifts UNLV is willing to bestow upon them, such as a full set of Encyclopedia Britannicas, the home game of Concentration and what’s behind door No. 2.
Nobody at UNLV knows about Tom and Len. At other schools, fans of their ilk and long standing are celebrated. They get invited to football luncheons and are asked to be honorary captains of the intrasquad scrimmage; perhaps after a time they are rewarded with padded seats.
On Saturday night, I found Tom and Len where you can always find them at Sam Boyd Stadium: Section 106, Row 20, Seats 19 and 20. Right around the 40-yard line on the visitors’ side.
Their seats were not padded.
When Tom recently turned 80, his daughter, Kathy, thought it would be neat to present him with a football signed by coach Tony Sanchez and the Rebels. She was told the Rebels don’t autograph footballs, because somebody could put such an item on eBay, along with an 8×10 photograph of the Washington Generals, and profit by it.
Tom said he did receive a letter from Sanchez thanking him for his support.
The only home games he and Len remember missing is when Tom got run over in a parking lot a few years back and had to have his hip replaced, and a season many moons ago when UNLV played home games at Las Vegas High. Just wasn’t the same watching college games from high school bleachers, Tom said.
But now they read about a new football stadium being built, and they worry about not being able to afford tickets.
Retirees on fixed incomes usually are hard-pressed to come up with extra cash for seat licenses.
“We’ll probably get priced out of the new stadium,” Len said just as Johnny Stanton threw another forward pass to No. 3 on Idaho, a linebacker named Kaden Elliss, eliciting more groans from the modest crowd of 17,229.
Tom and Len didn’t groan. They’ve seen so many UNLV fumbles and interceptions over the years, what’s one or two more?
But they have been around long enough to know the Rebels weren’t always this bad in football.
They mentioned Ron Meyer’s teams during the early days of the program, and Tony Knap’s that lit up scoreboards during the 1980s. They spoke of Randall Cunningham, and of Sam King throwing that TD pass to Jim Sandusky when the Rebels upset the two Youngs, Brigham and Steve. They mentioned sitting in the end zone on the glorious December evening when a chill was in the air, and a beautiful toss from Jason Thomas to Troy Mason was in the air, and John Robinson’s guys trounced Arkansas in the Las Vegas Bowl.
It’s been mostly downward spirals since, and intercepted passes that flutter in a gentle breeze.
“Perseverance,” Tom Kemp says with a knowing smile.
“I just like the atmosphere, the college atmosphere. I really like it when the stadium is full. When they played BYU, they used to fill that stadium, and that was always a real good college atmosphere.”
It had been a decent atmosphere Saturday night, at least until Johnny Stanton threw two more downward spirals.
The sun was just starting to set on the desert. The breeze was gentle and had begun to waft. It was an ideal evening for college football, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof.
The players were bigger and stronger and faster than in 1968, and it was difficult to tell who was who on the Rebels, owing to silver numbers on light red jerseys. But Tom Kemp, 80, and Len Schweitzer, 81, seemed to be enjoying themselves as usual.
The Rebels were losing to Idaho, but there still was time for a comeback.
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