UNLV Rebels: A Brief History

The Cougars travel to Las Vegas this weekend with hopes of repeating last year's 59-7 shellacking, during which Marshall Lobbestael threw for over 350 yards and five touchdowns. Surely the authors here at CougCenter will do a sufficient job in breaking down the Rebels 2012 squad in the coming days.

But for now, how ‘bout we look to the past? Here's a brief history of UNLV with specific focus on the football program, because reading about the Cougs' upcoming opponent probably sounds better than whatever you're supposed to be doing at work (or in class).

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas:

UNLV was actually founded relatively recently - in 1957. It was first an extension of the long-established University of Nevada, Reno. The university remained an extension of UNR, officially as Nevada Southern, until 1965, when it became Nevada Southern University. The final change (to the current name) came in 1969 and UNLV surpassed UNR in enrollment two years later.

The nickname "Rebels" was inspired directly by their "rebellion" from the original Reno-based university. The nickname "Runnin' Rebels" (always without the ‘g') was coined in 1974 by then-SID Dominic Clark, but only refers to the men's basketball team, not all athletic programs. UNLV's colors (officially ‘scarlet and gray' - with an ‘a'!) trace back to the introduction of the team mascot wearing a Confederate military uniform. Beauregard, the original mascot, was a winking cartoon wolf rebel, intended to be a playful (or not so much) jab at UNR's Wolf Pack mascot. The university changed to the current mascot, a human-modeled solider named "Hey Reb", after social and cultural concerns were expressed in the 1970s.

Rebel Football:

The first Rebel football team was fielded in 1968 and actually competed exceptionally well. The '68 squad went 8-1, only losing their season finale against the Cal Lutheran Kingsmen. The Rebels played in Division II from 1968 to 1977, appearing in the D-II playoffs twice. They lost to Delaware in the 1974 national semifinals and to Akron in the 1974 quarterfinals.

The program jumped to Division 1-A in 1978, losing their first game against (wouldn't you know it) the Washington State Cougars! The 34-7 loss to the Cougs (who eventually went 3-7-1 on the season) was the first of three straight losses to welcome the program to D-I, but the Rebels responded with a 7-game win streak before losing in the season cap to BYU. They finished 7-4.

After competing as an Independent for the first four years in Division-I, UNLV joined the Pacific Coast Athletic Association (which would become the Big West Conference) in 1982. The '82 squad struggled, going 3-8 overall and 1-5 against their new conference-mates.

Their conference woes were short-lived, however, as the 1984 team was the Rebels' first real taste of success in D-I. The team went 11-2 overall, with their only losses coming on a long trip to Hawaii and at home vs. the eventual Aloha Bowl winners, SMU. Led by All-everything QB Randall Cunningham*, they averaged nearly 30 points per game while holding opponents to only 20.2. They went to the California Bowl, beating Toledo 30-13 on December 15. The '84 season remains the Rebels only 10+ win season.

*Fun fact: Randall Cunningham was voted an All-American in both 1983 & 1984, but not as quarterback. Rather, he was an All-American punter, averaging a stellar 47.5 yards per punt during his senior campaign. His career long was a 73-yarder.

The '83 and '84 seasons were actually forfeited in 1985 after the NCAA found that the Rebels used seven academically ineligible players. Then UNLV president Robert Maxson insisted the infractions were unintentional, but that was disputed by some, including Cal State Fullerton Coach Gene Murphy. Officially, the two seasons combined for an 0-24 record, although the UNLV media guide still lists the seasons having their unofficial records.

The Rebels have reached the postseason two other times in their D-I history, both times requiring minimal travel as they "went bowling" to the Las Vegas Bowl. The 1994 season ended with a 52-24 win over Central Michigan. Most recently, they won the 2000 Las Vegas Bowl over Arkansas, 31-14.

The program joined the WAC for a brief 3-year stint starting in 1996, but then became a founding member of the Mountain West Conference in 1999. Unfortunately for Rebel fans, the program hasn't experienced much success in the last decade. Their last winning season was in 2000 and they reached .500 just once more, in 2003. From 2001-2011, the program averaged just 3.3 wins per season, including 2-win campaigns in both of the last two seasons.

Notable UNLV Alumni:

  • QB/P Randall Cunningham - Career passing and punting leader. 2x All-American. 4x Pro Bowl, 4x All-Pro, 1992 NFL Comeback Player of the Year
  • RB Ickey Woods - 1x All-Pro, known most for creating the "Ickey Shuffle" (man, how awesome was the Ickey Shuffle?)
  • WR Keenan McCardell - 2x Pro Bowl, 2x Super Bowl champion
  • QB Kenny Mayne - Kent, WA resident and former Wenatchee Valley Knight was actually ahead of Randall Cunningham on the depth chart during his (Mayne's) senior season. Of course, now known for his ESPN work.
  • CB George Maloof, Jr. - Nothing notable as a football player, but casino mogul and current owner of the Sacramento Kings
  • DE Suge Knight - Also nothing notable as a football player, but co-founder of Death Row Records

This FanPost does not necessarily reflect the views of the site's writers or editors, who may not have verified its accuracy. It does, however, reflect the views of this particular fan, which is just as important as the views of our writers or editors.

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