LAS VEGAS — Micah Parsons reigns above the neon-lit Strip, nearly mocking drivers and pedestrians who try to catch a glimpse of the Dallas Cowboys rookie linebacker before his image on the big-screen marquee near the Fashion Show mall does not flicker.
A sea of NFL jerseys, sometimes with a head of cheese, ripples as fans walk through a volcano, dancing water fountains, the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty and a pyramid complete with a Sphinx wearing a mask – eye inspired by the Raiders.
It’s Pro Bowl week in the NFL’s new market, which is making an audition, of sorts, as the host of the league’s biggest events. It wasn’t that long ago that the NFL wouldn’t allow Las Vegas to buy commercial airtime during the Super Bowl. And now the League’s All-Star Game is set to take place here (3 p.m. ET, Sunday, ESPN), followed by the NFL Draft in April and, two years from now, Super Bowl LVIII. Indeed, Las Vegas is on track to become the first city to host all three NFL events, thanks to the Raiders moving here in 2020.
This desert oasis was once the sports grounds of UNLV’s Jerry Tarkanian’s Runnin’ Rebels, rock stars in their own right who probably couldn’t have imagined the NFL coming to town, even if Stacey Augmon and Larry Johnson rocked Los Angeles Raiders caps for a photo shoot during the 1990-91 season.
So there was some symmetry in Raiders tight end Darren Waller, Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year nominee from Las Vegas, who won the Rebels victory over rival Nevada on Tuesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center. Waller was hounded for photos and autographs and forced before grabbing the rim as he exited Tarkanian Court. And, remember, it was ‘Sweetness’ himself – Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton – who gave a pre-game speech in the Rebels locker room before coming out and beating Duke. 103-73 in the 1990 title match.
Even Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler, who had no real connection to Las Vegas until he was hired on Monday, was intrigued by these former rebel teams. He showed his knowledge by spouting the names of the starters of the 1990-91 champions, starting with the least known of them: center George Ackles.
Vikings WR Justin Jefferson comes clutch to win the dodgeball game with a one-handed catch for the victorious NFC.
Las Vegas has always been a sports betting city, with Super Bowl Sunday and March Madness particularly busy on the books. But it’s now an NFL town with the Raiders following in the footsteps of the NHL’s Golden Knights, an expansion team that started play in 2017 and made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in his first season. Interestingly, the NHL All-Star Game is also taking place this weekend at nearby T-Mobile Arena.
But a freezing, windy Wednesday night at a ballpark used by Oakland Athletics’ Triple-A affiliate in nearby Summerlin (yes, even the A’s are flirting with the idea of following the East Bay Raiders to southern Nevada ), it was a shirtless Parsons who stole the show at the Pro Bowl Skills Showdown in the fastest 40-yard dash.
— Paul Gutierrez (@PGutierrezESPN) February 3, 2022
Or maybe it was Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson who got in on the precision passing contest. Then again, Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs winning the contest for best catch — yes, a defensive back won the trophy — with an acrobatic somersault act that would have wowed fans at any dunk contest in the NBA, raised a few eyebrows. He also beat a trampoline jump between the legs of Minnesota Vikings star Justin Jefferson which brought back memories of another guy with ties to both Oakland and UNLV – Raiders fan Isaiah Rider and his East Bay Funk Dunk.
“It’s important to have the Pro Bowl here because now the NFL is hosting it in the entertainment capital of the world and at Allegiant Stadium,” said Raiders season ticket holder Rick Cruz. “SoFi Stadium [where Super Bowl LVI is being held]? It’s Hollywood. Vegas is more cutting edge, and it’s delivered to a fanbase that’s hungry for the notoriety they’ve earned.”
Las Vegas has long been the fighting capital of the world, from Muhammad Ali to Mike Tyson to Oscar De La Hoya to Floyd Mayweather Jr. to the UFC, and the city knows how to host an event… and a after party.
Raiders Pro Bowl defensive end Maxx Crosby has made a habit of hosting his AFC West brothers.
“I said [Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis] Kelce and [quarterback Patrick] Mahomes, they need anything, they need some ground, they have my number,” Crosby said. “Yeah, I’m that guy today.
“It’s perfect. I’m staying home. I just woke up and drove here. Yeah, it’s amazing to be here in Vegas, the best city in the world, so we’re having fun .”
Officials expect a sold-out sale for the Pro Bowl, which moved from Hawaii to Orlando, Florida, in 2016 before arriving in Vegas, for at least this year. It was canceled last year due to the pandemic.
Don’t rely on Raiders linebacker Denzel Perryman, a first-time professional pitcher, for helpful tips or do’s and don’ts in Sin City.
“They asked me, ‘Dude, you gotta show us where to go,'” he said. “I’m like, ‘Good luck with that. You’re all gonna be on Yelp because I don’t know. I’m not dating like that, man. I’m a homebody.’ After Sunday, I’ll be in Las Vegas venturing out and having all the to-do lists for everyone.
“After Sunday, you might see me somewhere. Somewhere. Eat, however. To eat.
The NFL, however, is in Las Vegas to stay.