Jamaal Brimmer looks as if he could still play, but the touch of gray on his beard gives away that those times are long past.
One of UNLV’s greatest all-time players, Brimmer couldn’t stay away from the final Rebels game Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium, a place where he became a two-time All-America safety who played from 2001 to 2004.
He was one of more than 200 former players who took part in festivities before the Rebels’ 38-35 victory over San Jose State.
“It’s about 20 years since I’ve seen a lot of these guys, so it’s a good experience,” Brimmer said. “Always the stories come, so whenever you get around each other, you hear stories that maybe you forgot about or didn’t know about.”
About 10,000 fans showed up to watch a thriller that went down to the final seconds, a reminder of why UNLV is leaving after the season for Allegiant Stadium. There is the optimism that comes with playing in a NFL stadium and training in the recently opened Fertitta Football Complex, but the lack of victories and crowd support made Sam Boyd a punching bag.
“We’ve got some great things coming,” said the greatest Rebel of them all, former two-time All-America quarterback and punter Randall Cunningham. “With that new stadium, it’s going to be pretty awesome, and I’m just grateful that (former NFL running back) Napoleon McCallum and different people put that whole deal together to get the Raiders here, which benefits UNLV, which benefits our whole city.”
Cunningham still is the Rebels’ career passing and punting leader. He threw for 8,020 yards from 1982 to 1984 and averaged 45.6 yards per punt before going on to play 16 years in the NFL.
“This is a great legacy to be out here today,” Cunningham said.
Another former UNLV quarterback, Kenny Mayne, also is part of the legacy. He backed up starter Sam King in 1981, and for the past 25 years has been one of ESPN’s more recognizable anchors.
“My memory here is all the people,” Mayne said. “It’s been 40 years. We’re old here, but I’ve kept close to a whole bunch of the guys I’ve played with and missing those who are gone. Everybody’s life is moving on, but it’s really cool to have the finale here, and we’re moving into the new joint. It’s going to help a lot with recruiting, welcoming the Raiders here. It’s a good thing, so this place did its duty. It’s time to move on.”
Former two-time UNLV Football Foundation president Chuck Davison is ready to move on to the new stadium as well. He was honored early in the first quarter for having missed just 29 games over 51 seasons.
He watched the Rebels from the beginning in 1968 when they played at Cashman Field and Butcher Memorial Field before moving into what then was called Las Vegas Stadium in 1971.
“(Saturday was) probably one of the best days I’ve had in a long time,” Davison said. “There’s nothing like seeing these guys come home. It’s a shame that we can’t have these guys for every game.”
The current Rebels gave those players a treat by going out a winner.
It was the second time UNLV coach Tony Sanchez left this stadium in such a manner. He ended his playing career in 1995 at New Mexico State with a 58-34 victory over UNLV.
“I had five catches for like 82 yards,” Sanchez said. “It was a good day.”
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Rebels hold off San Jose State, 38-35
UNLV safety Greg Francis broke up a pass near the goal line, and defensive tackle Kolo Uasike grabbed the ball out of the air for a game-saving interception with six seconds left in the Rebels’ 38-35 victory Saturday over San Jose State in their final game at Sam Boyd Stadium.
The Rebels (3-8, 1-6 Mountain West) ended a four-game losing streak while also ensuring that San Jose State (4-7, 1-6) will not be bowl eligible.
UNLV created five takeaways, including four interceptions.
Charles Williams rushed for 186 yards and three touchdowns for UNLV, and his 1-yard scoring run with 1:15 left turned out to be the winning TD.
UNLV quarterback Kenyon Oblad completed 21 of 36 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns, and Randal Grimes caught six passes for 130 yards and a TD.
“That game took a lot out of me,” Rebels coach Tony Sanchez said. “The guys played their tails off.”