Mackay Stadium: If you rebuild it, they will come | NevadaAppeal.com
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Mackay Stadium: If you rebuild it, they will come

Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .

If you have stayed away from Mackay Stadium in recent years because you could see the game better on your television at home, well, you now need a better excuse to avoid attending Nevada Wolf Pack home football games. Mackay Stadium’s new video scoreboard can be seen clearly from space. Well, maybe not that far away. But there is a rumor that you can sit on your roof in Minden, look north and watch the game on the new Mackay board. The new 68-foot-wide video board, the centerpiece of the Pack’s $12 million Mackay Stadium renovation this off-season, supposedly has the sharpest screen in all of college football. The lip readers in the stands will now certainly be able to figure out what Pack head coach Brian Polian is saying to the officials. The old board was like watching a 19-inch television in the 1960s complete with rabbit ears and aluminum foil on top. You couldn’t see it in the daytime and at night it looked like it was underwater. The Wolf Pack has now made going to Mackay almost as comfortable as sitting in your living room and watching the game. All that is missing is your buddy hogging all the pizza, chicken wings and beer.

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The Wolf Pack football team, which opens its season Friday night at home against Cal Poly, could be 8-1 heading into a Mountain West showdown against San Diego State at Mackay Stadium on Nov. 12. The season starts in the first two weeks with the easiest game (Cal Poly) on the schedule followed by the toughest (at Notre Dame). It then settles into a crucial seven-game stretch against mediocre-to-bad teams (Buffalo, Purdue, Hawaii, Fresno State, San Jose State, Wyoming, New Mexico) that will likely determine whether this is a special season or just another seven-win yawner that puts everybody to sleep by Thanksgiving. Nothing is ever easy or guaranteed with Wolf Pack football so expect some bumps and bruises along the way. But even Polian admits that seven wins is not good enough this year. We’ll see what he says at the end of the year.

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It seems like Polian knows that he needs to win at least eight games in order to get a contract extension at the end of the year. We would hope that is the case. Athletic director Doug Knuth, who did not hire Polian, might have a difficult decision to make at the end of the year. Remember, he pulled the trigger quickly on former men’s basketball coach David Carter (another coach he didn’t hire) a couple years back. So he’s not afraid to make a change. Let’s just say that Knuth would have a difficult time justifying a contract extension for Polian based on another seven-win year. Polian and his players are going around this summer saying that another seven-win season is not acceptable. The players just echo their coach and Polian just echoes his athletic director, especially when it comes to putting pressure on himself. Polian wouldn’t say another 7-win season is unacceptable if that message wasn’t already given to him by Knuth. Remember, this is the same coach who thought seven wins last year was amazing as he lifted the meaningless Arizona Bowl trophy over his head. The pressure is on Polian this year to produce. There are video boards, sky boxes and suites to pay for.

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Of course, the Wolf Pack football team almost never beats all the teams it should beat. That is a long-standing Wolf Pack tradition. This team, remember, lost to Wyoming and UNLV last year. Who else could the Pack lose to this year, other than Notre Dame and San Diego State? Well, almost anybody. No. Not Cal Poly. But almost everybody else. But the biggest concerns are road games at San Jose State and New Mexico and a home game against Utah State. Fresno State at Mackay Stadium will also be a test if Fresno State comes in with a competent quarterback. Notice that we didn’t mention the final regular season game at UNLV as a possible Pack loss. The Pack can’t lose at UNLV, not after losing at home to the Rebels last year. Polian’s job will likely depend on him beating UNLV and bringing the cannon back home. The boosters who have to pay for that 68-foot video board won’t stand for another loss to UNLV. And they shouldn’t.

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Lost in all of the discussion about Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit down during the national anthem was how it affected his team and his teammates. The one thing that all athletes in a team sport do not want to be is a distraction to their teammates. Kaepernick has been a tremendous distraction to the 49ers over the last week or so. A quarterback has to be a team leader. It is safe to assume that Kaepernick’s decision to sit during the anthem divided his team, like it did the rest of America. How is that being a leader as a quarterback? Yes, some issues are more important than playing quarterback. But there is a proper time and place for everything. Kaepernick didn’t call attention to the issue of racial oppression. That issue was already front and center in the media on a daily basis over the past several months. All Kaepernick did was call attention to himself.

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Kaepernick was fighting for his NFL life before he sat down during the anthem. He had gone from a Super Bowl quarterback to one of the worst in the league at his position quicker than you can say pistol offense. His entire focus this summer should have been on improving his performance as a quarterback and winning back the trust and confidence of his teammates. Don’t forget that there were plenty of legitimate concerns last year about Kaepernick losing the confidence of his teammates. How can you lead men who feel that you disrespected everything that they believe in? It is not unreasonable to assume that more than a few 49er players are wondering right now where Kaepernick’s focus is. It certainly doesn’t seem to be on his team, his teammates, learning Chip Kelly’s offense or becoming a better leader

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If the 49ers do cut Kaepernick, it won’t be because he sat down during the national anthem. It will be because he is a mess as a quarterback. Do you think the Carolina Panthers would cut Cam Newton if Newton sat down during the anthem? The 49ers won’t cut Kaepernick for sitting down because it would be a public relations nightmare. They almost can’t cut him right now. Don’t be shocked if Kaepernick still starts the majority of games this season for the 49ers. Blaine Gabbert, after all, is all that is standing in his way. Kaepernick is highly competitive. He is still a wonderful athlete. He will wise up and figure out that his ability to get his message across about social issues all hinges on his standing as a NFL player. Nobody will care if Kaepernick sits down on his couch on Sunday afternoons during the anthem.