Hey Reb! and "Rebels" Nickname
From a winking wolf to a modern-day mountain man, UNLV’s mascot has evolved over the years. But the one thing that's stayed the same is its representation of UNLV's "Rebel" spirit that people have come to know and love.
The Rebellious Spirit
UNLV’s nickname and mascot date to the university’s origin in the mid-1950s, a time when a nation founded by rebels once again became obsessed with the idea of the iconic nonconformist. The decade of the 1950s was epitomized by young people rebelling against their parents’ middle-class American values. From popular motion pictures such as 1953’s The Wild One starring Marlon Brando and 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause starring James Dean, to “rebellious” musicians, such as Elvis Presley and the beginnings of rock and roll as it emerged from American blues music, the spirit of the times was rebellion.
The Birth of Beauregard
During this time, the tiny extension campus in Las Vegas that was struggling to emerge from the shadow of the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), and its students and administrators drew the idea for Rebels from the natural rivalry that accompanied the split between what would become UNLV and UNR. After establishing the Rebels nickname, Nevada Southern (NS) students also created Beauregard, a cartoon wolf with a Confederate uniform, to “rebel” against UNR and its wolf-pack mascot in the North. Beauregard’s smirk and wink contrasted with UNR’s ferocious wolf, another nod to the fledgling school’s break from tradition and its older and more established peer. While it was a decision based in rivalry and fun, the choice of a Confederate-themed mascot was nonetheless an unfortunate one.
Although the NS-UNR rivalry was useful, the casting of it as a specifically North-South competition (although accurate geographically) resulted in other unfortunate consequences. For example, the NS student government was named the “Confederated Students of Nevada Southern,” one of the campus traditions was the “Confederate Cotillion,” and during one year the football team’s helmets carried an image of a Confederate battle flag. Finally, the student newspaper also carried that symbol on its masthead for a time.
As NS became UNLV, changing times across the country had an impact on campus as well—as students and staff began to question the propriety of a Confederate-themed mascot and other traditions. Such change takes time, but UNLV opposition to those images and themes continued to grow until enough was finally enough. Beauregard lasted until the early 1970s, when a group of African-American student-athletes voiced objection to the Confederate imagery surrounding the mascot. Campus leaders agreed, and in 1976, the student senate voted to officially banish Beauregard and thereby remove the last remaining association of the Confederacy with UNLV.
The Rebel name was also put to a vote in the early 1970s, with students deciding 446 to 246 to retain it. According to the university’s 50th -anniversary book, UNLV: A History, “After all, ‘rebel’ stood for much more than a supporter of the Civil War against the Union. In the 1960s especially, it symbolized those who rejected convention, tradition, racism … Most of all, in southern Nevada it stood for those who had opposed northern domination in the state legislature and unwanted dependency upon Reno.”
The Rebel Spirit
After students voted to reject and abolish Beauregard, the Rebels briefly used a colonial soldier during the Bicentennial but went largely without a mascot until 1982. That’s when celebrated local artist Mike Miller was asked to conceptualize his version of the UNLV Rebel — and Hey Reb! was born. Miller, a partner in a local advertising firm who held the UNLV account, was asked to create a character representative of area history that embraced the rebel spirit of defiance and nonconformity.
Miller, who passed away in 2014, said his inspiration came from the Western trailblazers of the 1800s who ventured into uncharted Nevada to discover resources and build communities. “Pathfinders were severely independent people who went all around the West looking for new trails, agriculture, gold mining, and everything,” he said in a 2011 interview.
Behind the 'Stache
The design, which Miller sold to UNLV for one dollar, was reflective of Western independence and immediately resonated with students, fans, and the community. The same generation of students who courageously did the right thing by banishing Beauregard embraced the new nonoffensive and Nevada-themed mascot with passion. Hey Reb! has undergone minor changes in the years since—he lost his rifle and added some muscles in 1997—and he has become one of the most beloved mascots in all of college athletics.
UNLV students relegated Beauregard and the Confederate symbols to the history books. Their only presence on campus today is in areas describing the history of the mascot (such as in athletic teams’ media guides), in the Special Collections area of Lied Library, and in the Marjorie Barrick Museum, the former gymnasium that still has the old wood basketball floor with the wolf logo at center court.
UNLV acknowledges that its first generation of students opted for a great name in Rebels but chose to surround it with imagery and symbols that fell short of giving that name the honor it deserved. UNLV also acknowledges the persistent and courageous students of a later generation who decided to keep the great Rebels name and create a mascot that would represent the university’s spirit, and be embraced by fans!
The Refreshed Rebel
UNLV’s modernized Hey Reb! spirit mark is imbued with a sense of place. Starting with the silhouette of Betty Willis’ "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign, the mark incorporates an outline of the Hey Reb! mountain man, with subtle gray mountains both defining his shoulder and forming his bandana. Broad scarlet and gray strokes cut into a black field, culminating in a red star sweeping across the night sky—right in the same spot of the sign where Willis placed her firmament.
The logo is more contemporary and more prominently tells the story of UNLV—particularly by tying the school more directly to the city.