It’s the reason for the season.
UNLV didn’t fire up the homecoming festivities until 1966, eight years after the university was founded.
It was, though, two years before UNLV football had its inaugural season. So was then-Nevada Southern going to wait around until a football team could get put in place? No, they were not. We were rebels even when it came to homecoming.
The first four homecoming games in UNLV history saw the Rebels take on rival Nevada on the hardwood. From 1966 to 1969, it was winter and spring, not autumn, when social gadflies and sports fans alike returned to the growing campus.
A Pajama Rally and a dance anchored the festivities, leading up to Jan. 10, 1966, when the Rebels and Wolfpack would meet at the Convention Center. Nevada Southern had never lost to Nevada in Las Vegas, but at 7-6 under first-year coach Rolland Todd wasn’t nearly as dominant over the previous year’s squad that went 21-8.
All-American center Silas Stepp put up 25 points, but Nevada Southern couldn’t overcome an 11-point deficit at the half en route to a 74-70 loss. The first Wolfpack win in Las Vegas had come at the worst possible time.
The situation showed remarkable improvement just a year later, on March 1, 1967. It was a down year for the Wolfpack, coming into the game 4-19 compared to the 19-5 Rebels. The game would tell the story of the season.
More than 3,600 turned out at the Convention Center to see the Rebels stymie the Wolfpack so badly that it took Nevada nearly three minutes to get off its first shot. By the half, the Rebels had established a 40-22 margin. Dixon Goodwin paced Nevada Southern with 24 points en route to an 84-53 drubbing.
Gov. Paul Laxalt graced the Convention Center for the third homecoming game, Dec. 14, 1967. Though the Rebels were only 2-2 at the time, those two losses came on the road at Denver and Wyoming.
Nevada coach Jack Spencer knew his team was in for a tough night. “This is the best ball club we have seen all year. It’s certainly the best team they have had,” he told the Review-Journal.
He was right. Nevada’s Alex Boyd scored 36, but the rest of his team only chipped in another 44 as the Rebels smashed the Woflpack 108-80 behind 21 from Donnie Lyons, and 20 each from Jerry Chandler and John Trapp. After the game, a blithe coach Todd admitted, “I think the boys were looking ahead a little to Los Angeles State.”
In the final year of hoops homecoming, the 17-5 Rebels met the 8-13 Wolfpack on Feb. 18, 1969.
Nevada made a game of it, blitzing to a 12-point lead in the first half before the Rebels imposed their will on the Wolfpack. Tommy Watkins and Curtis Watson paced the scoring with 24 each.
One tradition held continuity between basketball and football homecomings, though. When UNLV football took over the tradition on Nov. 26, 1970, their first opponent was none other than Reno in the first-ever battle for the Fremont Cannon, a game won 42-30 by the Rebels.
When UNLV squares up with Air Force for the Homecoming game on Oct. 19, soak in all the pageantry the annual tradition has to offer. Just maybe give a basketball a quick dribble, for old time’s sake.