The very first University of North Texas football game I ever watched was against Nevada - Las Vegas.
It was the evening of Thursday, September 2, 1999. I had finished grad school and begun working for the City of Denton just a couple of months before, and being the college football fiend that I was, Idecided to buy season tickets to watch the local team play.
(I ended up with seats on the 45 yard line, home side, of Fouts Field, if that provides any indication of just how sparse the Mean Green's fanbase was.)
The Rebels were playing their first game as members of the new Mountain West Conference. John Robinson was their head coach. And UNLV handily defeated the Mean Green, 26-3.
North Texas, which hadn't had a winning season in five years, would only win two games in 1999. They would see some success a few years later, winning the Sun Belt Conference four consecutive years between 2001 and 2004, but would return to the dregs of college football afterward. The Mean Green strung together eight losing seasons in a row between 2005 and 2012, including a three-season stretch where the team managed a 5-31 record. The North Texas program struggled with poor coaching and obsolete facilities.
That changed in 2011, when the Mean Green introduced Dan McCarney as their new head coach. That fall Apogee Stadium opened. Last year, UNT made the move from the Sun Belt Conference to Conference USA. And in 2013, the Mean Green put together their first winning season since 2004, notching an 8-4 record and a bowl appearance.
Needless to say, as I watched North Texas defeat UNLV, 36-14, in yesterday's Heart of Dallas Bowl, I couldn't help but think that things had come full circle for the Mean Green.
One winning season does not a trend make, of course, and only time will tell if UNT will become a good college football program in the years to come. But the ingredients for success are certainly there: a state-of-the-art stadium, good coaching and location in the talent-rich DFW Metroplex.
Both UNT and Houston still have open dates on their 2014 schedule, so there's speculation that the Coogs and the Mean Green could play each other. Which is fine with me, as I had a great time the last time the two teams met.