Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023 | 2 a.m.
Raiders owner Mark Davis walked through the entrance of UNLV’s Fertitta Football Complex on Tuesday afternoon and couldn’t help noticing four mannequins dressed in Rebel uniforms.
The uniform combinations mirrored that of the Raiders: One set was all-white with silver numbers. Another was an all-black uniform with white numbers.
“It makes perfect sense for us coming together,” Davis jokingly said a few minutes later while sharing his observation.
Davis was at the training facility to tout a $1 million donation the franchise made to the UNLV program to enhance the student-athlete experience, proudly saying supporting the Rebels was an easy decision because the university was one of the first entities to welcome the Raiders to the city.
The team room inside the training center is now dubbed the “Al Davis Team Room,” in honor of the Raiders’ patriarch, who died in 2011. “This is what I want to stand for — the young men and women coming into this room,” Mark Davis said.
When the Raiders first investigated relocating from Oakland to Las Vegas, Davis arrived in February 2015 at UNLV for a listening session with the university’s International Gaming Institute about why bringing his team here made sense.
That top-secret gathering detailed the institute’s research on the integrity of sport betting, problem gambling and local crime trends — those perceived pitfalls that had led the NFL to keep its distance from Las Vegas — to get the ball rolling on the Raiders relocating here.
By 2020, the $2 billion Allegiant Stadium opened to give the Raiders and UNLV a new home.
A seven-figure donation reaffirms Davis’ loyalty to UNLV and the franchise’s long-standing mantra of making our community a better place through their generous acts. Whether it’s buying helmets for a high school team, hosting a flag football tournament for local girls at their facility, paying for school lunches, or sponsoring numerous community events, the Raiders have made their impact felt in all corners of the city.
Davis called UNLV the Raiders’ roommates at the stadium, saying the relationship between the franchise and university will continue to be strong.
“Just win. Just win, baby,” Davis said in touting one of his father’s famous sayings. “That is on and off the field.”
The Rebels have gradually been winning many battles — on and off the field — thanks to many investments recently in the program. The Rebels have won four of their initial five games this season under new coach Barry Odom, who might end up being the school’s best hire since that Tarkanian guy in the 1970s.
The transformation started in 2019 with the opening of the Fertitta complex, a nearly $30 million on-campus training facility that is hands-down the best in the Mountain West — and rivals those built at Power 5 Conference schools. It continued a year later when home games started being contested at Allegiant Stadium, giving the perennial struggling program a distinct advantage off the field that appears to be leading to an edge on the field.
For many supporters, the approach to rooting for UNLV had been simple: Beat UNR in the Fremont Cannon rivalry game in football, then get ready for basketball season. Now, the narrative has changed — the football program needs two more wins until bowl eligibility, and looks to be contending for a league championship.
Odom looked at the signage that was unveiled naming the room after Al Davis, and broke into a gigantic smile. He was a Raiders fan as a child, and seeing Davis’ name attached to his program was meaningful.
You get the sense that UNLV, which has never played in consecutive bowl games, is on the verge of becoming a respectable football program.
Officials are saying the donation will go toward enhancing the student-athlete experience, focusing on the “growth and maturation” of the players, Athletic Director Erick Harper said. Odom called the donation “transformational in changing the lives in a positive way for young men.”
Davis spoke of a few mantras his father used to regularly repeat, such as “pride and poise” and “commitment to excellence.” He stressed the vision was for the UNLV program to accomplish these benchmarks on and off the field.
“Take pride in the organization you represent,” he said.
The pride Davis has about his father’s legacy certainly shines through in his desires to make Las Vegas a better place. UNLV was the recipient of the kindness this week — it will surely be someone else later this month.
Bravo, Silver and Black. Bravo.
“It’s about a partnership and shared values,” UNLV President Keith Whitfield said. “I get chills hearing about what your father used to talk about.”
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