It has been a rough two months for Mike Sanford, the UNLV football team, and the fans of the program.
When Rebel football is brought up as a topic of conversation around Las Vegas, inevitable head-shaking, eye-rolling, and heavy-sigh-heaving ensue.
I conducted a small poll of sorts, requesting a simple reaction from a sample of typical UNLV fans:
“In one sentence, describe your feelings, as a UNLV fan, toward the football program.”
The responses were anything but surprising.
“I guess I feel embarrassed, not so much because of how bad we are, but more because I believed the preseason talk of a winning season…for the third straight year.” (Matt, age 27)
As a group, UNLV fans (myself most certainly included) have repeatedly invested emotion, hope, and faith into a program that has failed to perform. We are left feeling foolish and ashamed.
“Hoping for UNLV to win is like hoping for flamingos in the Antarctic. Not likely, but funny to think about.” (Tyler, age 24)
Translation: I don’t even care anymore, and I’m using humor as a coping mechanism. Another sad and harsh reality is the arrival of the UNLV football program at punchline status, even among loyal supporters.
“I feel as though I’m in the middle of a lap dance when the dancer twists her ankle and can’t finish.” (Scott, age 24)
Translation: I’m upset. I want my money back. I’m not investing another dime until I start seeing some results. The reaction from the fanbase has been venomous at times. Threats to boycott, ignore, and even to root against the team have been audible throughout the community.
"It's not even worth the free ticket to go see a UNLV football game." (Pookie, age 41)
In other words, I get in for free, and I still feel cheated. Apathy has taken control of many rebel-loving hearts.
Another fan could muster only one word:
“Disappointed.” (Rhonda, age 22)
That pretty much sums it up.
Each fan’s reaction stems from that common concept. The fans want to cheer. They want to shout. They want to jump up and down and slap hands. They want to brag and boast and loudly toot their own horns. They want to feel proud.
It doesn’t take long, after a string of poor performances, for fans to channel their passion into a hollering, finger-pointing, foot-stomping rage.
Fingers fly furiously across keyboards. E-mails are sent; messages composed; comments submitted. The Internet becomes a blank canvas for a disgruntled fanbase to collectively smear the coaching staff. The reaction brings to mind imagery of a jolted, broken-hearted, and betrayed ex, bitter disappointment fueling her fury.
“I TRUSTED YOU! HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?”
“I GIVE AND I GIVE AND I GIVE! IS THIS HOW YOU REPAY ME?”
I am past that stage. I’ve moved on. I’ve come to terms with my life and my relationship with the UNLV football team and with Mike Sanford. I may not like what’s going on, but throwing a fit won’t change it. No more tears.
I’m convinced Mike Sanford is trying his very hardest. A part of me has started to empathize with the vilified head coach. He came in to a tough situation, and despite his best efforts, he hasn’t been able to get the job done. He isn’t a bad guy; he just hasn’t succeeded as a head coach. I think he’d be the first to admit that.
For now, we’re stuck together.
This is not a fairy tale. A happy ending is extremely unlikely. For the time being, each UNLV fan has three choices:
Option No. 1: Scream to the hills. Threaten. Complain. Raise a ruckus and fall silent for no one.
Option No. 2: Ignore. Ignore. Ignore. What football team?
Option No. 3: Take a deep breath. Maintain Perspective. Cheer for the team and hope for the best.
UNLV takes on New Mexico this Saturday. They may win. They may lose.
I hope they win.
If they don’t, I’ll probably turn off the TV, shake my head, shrug, and then get on with my life.
Life, as they say, will go on.