I covered the first UNLV-Nevada football game in 1969 for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The inaugural game was at Mackay Stadium in Reno. I wish I could have seen the game.
OK, I exaggerate. I wish I could have seen the deciding play of the game. Actually, there was about a minute remaining in the game when Nevada’s John Barnes kicked a 33-yard field goal which lifted the Wolf Pack to a 30-28 victory.
The trouble was by the time Barnes attempted the field goal it was so dark (and Mackay Stadium didn’t have lights) that nobody in the press box could see well enough to know if the kick was good.
The stadium was enveloped in darkness and not only nobody in the press box could see if it was good or not, nobody I talked to who was in the stands could see if it was good, either.
But the officials called it good — surprise, surprise considering where the game was played. I couldn’t swear it wasn’t good, but I could say that it was, either.
Bill Daniel is a guy who had a unique perspective on the game.
Daniel, a product of Reno High School, was coaching at UNLV at the time. He had joined Bill Ireland’s first staff for the Rebels in 1968 as the line coach.
Daniel had played four years at Nevada and had been an assistant coach for the Wolf Pack for three years before coming to UNLV.
“It was getting darker and darker,” Daniel said this week. “The only way I saw (Nevada) beating us was to kick a field goal. We felt they couldn’t score (a touchdown). We tried to defend field position, but they got field position for a field goal try. When the ball was kicked, we on the field had no idea whether it was good or bad.”
Daniel has either coached in or broadcast nearly all of the Nevada-UNLV games. After coaching for four years at UNLV, he received his doctorate at Utah. He returned to UNLV where he was selected as the chairman of the Physical Education Department.
He then returned to Reno where he was on coach Chris Ault’s first staff in 1976. He coached the Wolf Pack for three more years, then was a broadcaster for 25 years.
Dick Trachok was the Nevada athletic director for that first game in 1969 after having coached the Wolf Pack for 10 years.
Trachok said, “Everybody said it was so dark, nobody knew if the ball went over.”
But Trachok amended that to say, Oh, yeah, everybody from the Wolf Pack saw the ball go over. UNLV kidded about the ball not going over.”
Uh, Dick, the UNLV folks weren’t kidding about the kick not being good (even if they couldn’t actually tell either way). In fact, some of them were rather outspoken about it. That first game was quite controversial.
Daniel said, “That was something that just happened. We just bit our lips. Ireland didn’t complain.”
Trachok said, “I thought it was nice the old school started out with a win.”
Trachok, retired and now the AD emeritus at Nevada, was quite gracious about Saturday’s game between the Wolf Pack and UNLV at Sam Boyd Stadium at 7 p.m.
Despite Nevada being a consensus 21-point favorite, Trachok said, “UNLV has some pluses for this game. It’s not going to be a pushover. We’ll be lucky if we can get out of there with a win.”
Diplomacy thy name is Trachok.
A controversial play came in the fourth quarter when the Rebel defensive back Rich Logan, from Rancho High School, intercepted a pass.
I’ll let fellow UNLV defensive back Richard Pfeifer take it from there, “Rich picked off the pass. I was real close to him. I was peeling off to block for him and he was running right down the sideline and it was someone on the Reno side who was not in uniform who tripped him. He stuck his foot out and tripped Rich. I went berserk. I was really upset. I was yelling at the guy and I was yelling at the refs. The refs didn’t see it. At least that’s what they said.”
Despite that, Pfeifer is one of the most honest guys you will find.
Guess what he said?
“The kick was good.”
Pfeifer is now retired from Sprint and living in Las Vegas.
UNLV defensive standout Tommy Rowland said, “The field goal, we didn’t think they made it, but who knows? It was dark. It looked like it went off to the side.”
Rowland is in his 38th year teaching in the Clark County School District. He did retire once (officially) but came back immediately because of a shortage of teachers in Special Ed. And I thought I worked a long time (37 years) at the R-J.
Rowland was “Defensive Lineman of the Year” for the Rebels all four years he played. He lasted the entire preseason season for the Minnesota Vikings in 1974. But he left the team on his own to return to Las Vegas and accept a teaching position.
Barnes, who kicked the winning field goal (if it was indeed good), went on to become the head football coach at Los Alamitos High School, a long-time power in Southern California prep football.
New UNLV coach Bobby Hauck has undoubtedly talked with Barnes many times trying to recruit his players.
Barnes develops top quarterbacks and receivers every year at Los Alamitos.
Nevada has won five straight games and leads the series, 20-15. Before the Wolf Pack’s current five-game domination, the Rebels had won five in a row.
The Nevada-UNLV rivalry has one of the best trophies in college football — the “Fremont Cannon.”
The cannon was conceived by Ireland. I still remember Ireland saying he was going to do it and he did. Ireland went to the Kennecott Copper Corp., which donated the $10,000 to build the Fremont Cannon.
“Bill was a history buff, so he was intrigued by the cannon,” said Jeanne Ireland, who was the lady behind Bill Ireland while he coached at Fernley (six-man football), South Tahoe, Nevada and UNLV.
Ireland was a native of tiny McGill in White Pine County, where Kennecott was based in Nevada. While he was in college, Ireland worked summers at Kennecott. So Kennecott was a natural for Ireland.
“(White Pine County) was his home. He was very proud of it,” Jeanne Ireland said.
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