“Go UNLV!” a UCLA Bruins fan laughs as we stroll past his crew’s setup. “Are you ready to lose?”
With the Rebels projected to fall by around 30 points, we simply raise our Bud Light cans and cheer. “Yeah, but we’re still going to party harder than you are!” And that’s when fans of the opposing team invite us over for Fireball shots. What?!
That camaraderie might not be the norm for a UNLV tailgate, but the smack-talking definitely is. It’s easy to lob insults at one of the lowest-ranked programs in collegiate pigskin. But it never stops us Rebel fans from hauling our coolers and grills down for the game-day tradition outside Sam Boyd Stadium. And this year, under the direction of new coach Tony Sanchez, the party has been amped up.
That’s obvious in the lead-up to the first home game, just west of the stadium on a grassy knoll once taken over by the UNLV Alumni Association’s pre-game bash. Now dubbed the Rebel Block Party, its name emblazoned on a giant inflatable arch, the space is a pre-party hub for all.
Scarlet-and-gray fans dance to the music of Las Vegan Jeremy Cornwall, grub on food-truck treats from StripChezze, Roadrunner Grill and Smoke’N Sams BBQ and cheer the UNLV Star of Nevada Marching Band through a spirited performance of the “Win With the Rebels” fight song, emphatically shouting the “U-N-L-V! Go! Fight! Win!” call. Children gleefully play in a giant bounce house, and adults throw their tightest spirals aiming for targets in an inflatable booth. These are all new elements to UNLV’s tailgate party, part of Sanchez’s “New Era” plan. The team itself is even involved, walking through the space before warmups to exchange high fives with fans.
Meanwhile at Star Nursery Field, the tailgate I knew from my own UNLV days (which costs $10-$30 per person today) is still going strong. Rebel-branded flags wave in the wind as the smell and smoke of charcoal grills fill the air. Ping-pong balls fly into red Solo cups and bean bags into cornhole boards all around, and you can catch snippets of beer pong and Baggo banter as you walk down the grassy paths. The massive party is supervised by Metro’s mounted unit, which attracts lots of moms with their kids, the little ones hoping to pet the horses.
The free tailgate on the opposite end, which requires no entry fee for vehicles, also feels vibrant with Rebel spirit, though given Sanchez’s new tailgate touches—plus a reversal of the policy requiring game tickets at the Star Nursery field gates—we could see migration by the fans parking south of the stadium.
All in all, the scene has me pumped for the season, win-loss record be damned. Even those shot-sharing UCLA fans had some enthusiasm for our team: “You’ve got a good coach. We’re excited to see what happens in the next three or so years.” I know I’ll be there to find out.