THEY JUMPED (FOR OUR LOVE): Over the years, daredevils have been drawn to Vegas for New Year’s Eve stunts, with mixed results
Boxing. Mixed martial arts. Desert rally racing. Wildly ill-advised motorcycle jumps over notable civic landmarks. Don’t let anyone ever say that Las Vegas doesn’t own its weird sports niches — some staged as New Year’s Eve stunt spectaculars.
Evel Knievel, of course, got the ball (and the bike, and several bones) rolling in 1967 with his New Year’s Eve jump over the Caesars Palace fountains that ended spectacularly poorly if you’re a stunt cyclist, but fantastic if you’re a TV producer. The allure of horsepower-plus-hang time-plus-Las Vegas would prove irresistible over the years, with Gary Wells trying (and failing) to conquer the Caesars fountains in September 1980 and Knievel’s son, Robbie, exorcising the fountains in April 1989 with a 170-footer that stuck the landing his father couldn’t.
And on New Year’s Eve 2008, things got weird.
DOWNWARD SPIRAL: The short-lived Las Vegas Posse rode into the (Canadian) football sunset on Nov. 5, 1994
It’s right there in the name. The Canadian Football League (CFL).
You might think that would confine the sport north of the border, but in the halcyon days of the early-to-mid 1990s, the CFL was expansion-minded. The league dipped its toe into the United States in 1993 by placing a franchise in Sacramento, Calif., and a year later Canadian football would come to three more American cities: Shreveport, La., Baltimore — and Las Vegas.
It was a heady time for pro sports in Las Vegas. The Thunder of the International Hockey League had come onto the scene in ‘93, and ‘94 saw three more pro teams activate in the Continental Indoor Soccer League, Roller Hockey International and the young Arena Football League. But despite the oddity of being an American team, the Las Vegas Posse were the best positioned group of the bunch, belonging to the longstanding and well-established Canadian league.
Wind your way down Joe W. Brown Drive behind the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino, and look just to the west where the Las Vegas Country Club sits now. If you squint, you might be able to see the backstretch of what once was Las Vegas Park.
In retrospect, hosting a thoroughbred meet in Las Vegas — even in the relatively placid weather of October — wasn’t a winning proposition. Racebooks already dotted the Strip, and for visitors from Southern California used to Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar, a racetrack was far less novel an experience than casino gambling.
That didn’t stop Joseph M. Smoot from trying. With other people’s money.