Celebrating the Decades: The Sixties and sports in Las Vegas

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LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — We’re continuing our celebration of the decades with a look back at sports in the 1960s! It was a fun time in Las Vegas, with a sports scene that was just beginning to sprout.

The ’60s served as the beginning platform for sports in Vegas, from boxing in the earlier half of the decade to golf championships and birth of UNLV athletics. This era will forever be remembered as the decade that ushered in what has become the fabric of fabulous Las Vegas.

Las Vegas hatched boxing in the sixties. Our city’s first major fight brought Utahn and champion Gene Fullmer here to fight Benny Paret in 1961. A bigger fight at the convention center in ’63 featured Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson. But it wasn’t until 1969 that a casino first hosted a title fight, with Liston as the main attraction.

Auto racing roared into the desert; the Thunderbird Raceway in Henderson brings back memories of ‘American Graffiti’. The old 8MM film keeps those memories alive.

Golf was a major draw in Vegas. The Tournament of Champions held on the old DI course bright in a who’s who of gold, from Arnold Palmer to Bob Hope, Jack Nicklaus and Bing Crosby.

The idea of having a university football program was hatched in 1967. One year later, Nevada Southern debuted as a division two independent, with Bill Ireland as the school’s first head coach.

The UNLV basketball program started its winning tradition in the ’60s. Its first 20-win season was in ’63. Over the decade, the school made three NCAA appearances.

Lastly, the Raiders also made an appearance, playing a preseason game at Cashman in the 60s. Who would’ve guessed that 50 years following that game, the Raiders would be back again, only this time, calling Las Vegas home?

Next up, we’ll look at the ’70s and UNLV’s first Final Four.

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