Runnin' Rebels Pregame Show
By Mark Wallington, UNLV Sports Information
Two words that start it all: clear floor ... drop lights ... cue band ... start dancers ... roll fireworks ... and get ready for the greatest pregame show in all of college basketball.
The Voice of the Rebels takes everyone in the Thomas & Mack Center through 2 minutes and 40 seconds of excitement that gets the players introduced and the crowd on its feet. Public address announcer Dick Calvert is your host for the spectacular and has been since its inception in the mid-1970s.
Originally, the pregame show was just swirling spot lights, a loud pep band and excitable cheerleaders getting things rolling during player introductions.
"We wanted to add some pizzazz, give it a touch of Vegas," said Dominic Clark, UNLV sports information director at the time. "When we saw the affect it had on spectators and visiting teams, we lengthened it."
As the team became more known, so did too, its university's pregame show. Fans came earlier. Reporters called. Photographers set up to capture the spectacle on film.
All of this was before the Thomas & Mack Center when the Rebels were running the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center.
"It was a natural progression for a team that was becoming big time," said Calvert. "Basketball people across the country were talking about the team in the desert."
Apparently the UNLV athletic brain trust had to wing it because there was nothing else like it in sports.
"We were pioneers," said Clark. "No one else had anything so elaborate and it just continued to expand."
The pregame show continued to expand and arouse the Thomas & Mack Center faithful. At the same time, a great affect on the visiting team became quite noticeable as well.
"The other teams were intimidated by it all," said Clark. "Sometimes they were shell shocked even after the game started and wouldn't score a point for 10 minutes while the Rebels ran up and down the floor. A visiting coach once told Sports Illustrated that the pregame show was worth 10 points to UNLV."
The pregame show has grown so big and boisterous that visiting teams often duck it completely.
"Teams coming in here for the first time would get caught by surprise," Calvert said. "But coaches in the conference got smart and started pulling their teams off the court so they wouldn't get intimidated. (former Georgetown coach) John Thompson learned always to take his team out."
The Runnin' Rebels' move into their state-of-the-art arena allowed for more additions to the show. Calvert now announced the rolling out of the red carpet and the light show became more intricate with strobe effects. And things got really wild with the introduction of fireworks.
About two decades ago, former TMC director of operations Mike Enoch decided it was time to go all out. He worked with Matt Dillingham of Advanced Entertainment Services on developing an indoor pyrotechnic light show and in 1986 the sparks really flew.
Dillingham, who is the president of the company, went on to work with numerous professional teams in the NBA and NHL but said none can duplicate the excitement and breadth of the Rebels' show.
"A lot of professional teams try to duplicate what UNLV does but don't get close to it," Dillingham said. "I know a lot of people who have come to games just to see the pregame show."
The exhibition uses 60 pyrotechnic effects, 24 strobe lights, 36 other lights, takes four to five hours to set up and a crew of seven to pull it off at game time.
Great care is taken to head off any safety problems. The basketball floor is cleared except for the cheerleaders and they stand in a protected area in the middle of the court. Plus, Dillingham said all fireworks are of the indoor variety, meaning they're not toxic.
After gaining a reputation in the West, the show was first broadcast in its entirety during a nationally televised game in the late-1980s.