When John Robinson coached UNLV in the early 2000s, he would say he loved Sam Boyd Stadium, but wished he could move it 8 miles from its current location off Russell Road in the valley’s east side and place it on campus.
UNLV finally will leave next year, but the Rebels aren’t picking up Sam Boyd and taking it with them and they won’t be playing on campus.
They will share Allegiant Stadium near Mandalay Bay with the Raiders, making this, the 49th and final season at Sam Boyd.
UNLV’s athletic department will celebrate each decade at the stadium in the first five home games, beginning with a look back at the 1970s for the Aug. 31 opener against Southern Utah. UNLV will honor its entire past in the final regular-season game in the stadium, Nov. 23 against San Jose State.
“There are a lot of great memories,” coach Tony Sanchez said. “There have been a lot of hard times in this program. We’ve been around for 52 years, have gone to four bowl games, have had one winning season in however many years (18). It’s been some tough sledding. However, there have been some great moments, and we have had some really good football teams. There are some really good memories.
“We have an opportunity to take this program and move it to a new level, to leave Sam Boyd on a high note, to create a couple of more memories in that facility. It really is a nice place. It’s a little further removed. Our program’s finally evolving and moving on. I’m excited about playing this last season at Sam Boyd. I know our kids are going to be excited about it.”
Fans have complained about the distance to the stadium, the dirt parking lots and, of course, the losing. The latter has little to do with the stadium, but it heightened the other criticisms. Fewer fans likely would have talked about the distance and the dirt if UNLV had produced a consistent winner.
The Rebels haven’t had much of a home-field advantage given the sparse crowds, so they won’t necessarily miss playing games there after this season. But they also want the final season to be one in which they look back with pride and satisfaction.
“It’s going to be a tough experience (leaving), but we’re going to try to send it off on the right note,” junior running back Charles Williams said. “We just want to finish this off and have a great experience.”
Williams said he wants the Rebels’ final game there not to be in late November against San Jose State, but Dec. 21 in the Las Vegas Bowl. For that to happen, UNLV would need to do more than simply become bowl eligible, but play well enough so that the bowl committee, which has the first selection of the Mountain West, can justify picking the hometown school.
It’s a grand goal, but in many ways, so is simply bowl eligibility. UNLV went 4-8 last season and hasn’t played in a postseason game since qualifying in 2013 for the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Making any kind of bowl would be a strong way to go out.
“We’ve all put in so much work, and I feel that we’re definitely going to showcase it this year,” senior center Sid Acosta said. “We’ve built everything up together, and I think it’s definitely going to be our year this year.”
Redshirt freshman backup quarterback Kenyon Oblad, a Liberty High School graduate, said he has only known Sam Boyd and, like his teammates, hopes for a memorable final season there.
He also has an eye on Allegiant Stadium.
“From what I’ve seen with the graphics and everything, it looks amazing,” Oblad said. “It’s going to be the best in the world, so you can’t complain about that. I can’t wait to step in it for the first time.”
UNLV at Sam Boyd Stadium
First year: Built in 1971 at a cost of $3.5 million.
First game: Lost to Weber State 30-17 on Oct. 23, 1971.
First victory: Defeated New Mexico Highlands 55-31 on Oct. 30, 1971.
Sellouts: 10, most recently three in 2007 for games against Wisconsin on Sept. 8 (38,250), Hawaii on Sept. 25 (38,125) and Brigham Young on Oct. 13 (38,026).
Largest crowd: 42,075 on Aug. 31, 2002, against Wisconsin.
Name changes: Las Vegas Stadium (1971), Las Vegas Silver Bowl (1978), Sam Boyd Silver Bowl (1984), Sam Boyd Stadium (1994).
Capacity changes: 15,000 (1971), 32,000 (1978), 36,800 (1994), 35,500 (2015).