UNLV quarterback Armani Rogers, left, and former UNLV quarterback Bill Casey pose for photo after team practice on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018, in Las Vegas. Casey is the first quarterback and MVP in UNLV football history. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) quarterback Armani Rogers, left, and former UNLV quarterback Bill Casey chat after team practice on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018, in Las Vegas. Casey is the first quarterback and MVP in UNLV football history. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) quarterback Armani Rogers, left, and former UNLV quarterback Bill Casey pose for photo after team practice on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018, in Las Vegas. Casey is the first quarterback and MVP in UNLV football history. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) quarterback Armani Rogers, left, and former UNLV quarterback Bill Casey chat after team practice on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018, in Las Vegas. Casey is the first quarterback and MVP in UNLV football history. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) running back Lexington Thomas, left, quarterback Armani Rogers and former UNLV quarterback Bill Casey, right, chat after team practice on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018, in Las Vegas. Casey is the first quarterback and MVP in UNLV football history. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) quarterback Armani Rogers, left, and former UNLV quarterback Bill Casey chat after team practice on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018, in Las Vegas. Casey is the first quarterback and MVP in UNLV football history. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) UNLV quarterback Bill Casey, left, and head coach Tony Sanchez chat during team practice on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018, in Las Vegas. Casey is the first quarterback and MVP in UNLV football history. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) UNLV quarterback Bill Casey, left, and head coach Tony Sanchez chat during team practice on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018, in Las Vegas. Casey is the first quarterback and MVP in UNLV football history. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) UNLV quarterback Bill Casey, left, and head coach Tony Sanchez pose for photo during team practice on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018, in Las Vegas. Casey is the first quarterback and MVP in UNLV football history. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) undated photo provided on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018 by the first UNLV quarterback Bill Casey shows the 1968 first UNLV Rebel football team. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) quarterback Armani Rogers, left, and former UNLV quarterback Bill Casey chat after team practice on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018, in Las Vegas. Casey is the first quarterback and MVP in UNLV football history. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

It was a letter from a person you might otherwise welcome in another time, a salutation in 1968 that few male civilians between the ages of 18 and 25 desired to see the ol’ postman deliver.

Back then, when Lyndon B. Johnson reached out, it wasn’t to tell you about the Fresca fountain he installed in the Oval Office.

“Greetings from the President of the United States of America,” Bill Casey said. “Nobody wanted that.”

But a crazy thing happened on the way to Casey joining the Army and leaving his life and family in San Diego for Vietnam, and for it he will be part of a group honored on Saturday night when UNLV’s football team plays its home opener at Sam Boyd Stadium against Texas-El Paso.

Fifty years ago, an offense that included nine freshmen, a sophomore and a senior quarterback with a bad ankle ran the snot out of a play called 20-trap-pass, and so was born UNLV’s program.

The school was named Nevada Southern University, to be changed a year later, and the team played that first season as a NCAA College Division Small College Independent, its home games inside the hunk of concrete known as Cashman Field.

How bad was it?

“(Former UNLV head coach) Mike Sanford would have looked at Cashman then and thought Sam Boyd Stadium was Ohio State,” Casey said.

Which means a few things.

1. Nothing has changed.

2. The locker rooms were really, really bad.

Casey was 23 and under center running the snot out of 20-trap-pass because the Army frowned on that bad right ankle and failed him on its physical. So it went that a college football journey — that had taken him from San Diego City College to California to San Jose State — would conclude playing for first-year UNLV coach Bill Ireland.

The team would finish 8-1, its lone loss in a season-finale against Cal Lutheran by a 17-13 final, and to this day Casey wonders if there weren’t some wagering shenanigans going on with the visitors, given they kicked a meaningless field goal up a point in the closing seconds.

“I never expected them to win that many games,” said Royce Feour, the Hall of Fame journalist who covered that inaugural season for the Review-Journal. “Ireland hand-picked those games and tried to make it an easy schedule, but they ended up playing some good four-year schools. I thought maybe they could go 4-4 or 6-2. But they ended up having some very good players.”

Many came by the way of Bakersfield College and some by the way of Texas and, most importantly, a quarterback who when his friends departed for basic training at Fort Ord, he returned to the beach.

Soon after, a call came from Las Vegas.

Ireland needed someone who could not only help implement a college offense, but also run it, and he knew (or hoped) Casey had one season of eligibility remaining.

He did — or, as the story goes, those nine opponents didn’t care much when Ireland reached out via letters to inquire if Casey could play — meaning the transfer rules back in ‘68 were as tad less stringent as they are now.

Fifty years later, the quarterback hasn’t lost his love for the game or program.

“The improvement (under fourth-year head coach Tony Sanchez) is obvious, especially when it comes to depth,” said Casey, a retired businessman and member of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association Hall of Fame for helping lead Bishop Gorman to four state titles as an assistant coach back in the early 1980s. “We haven’t had second and -third string guys who have been able to come in and hold up. That’s changing. The kids are bigger, faster, stronger, more talented.

“We haven’t had a big-time quarterback in a while, and I’m hoping (redshirt sophomore) Armani Rogers can be that guy. He can run it, has the stature, the arm, and hopefully the accuracy comes with confidence. The running backs are so good, if Armani can just consistently be in the 200-yard passing range, everything will open up for them.”

If struggling Saturday, Rogers can always audible into 20-trap-pass — fake the pitch right, fake the dive with a second back, pull back and scan both deep and underneath routes.

“Oh, man, I threw for a lot of yards with that play,” Casey said. “I hit a bunch of long ones.”

Fifty years later, he can still see it all.

columnist Ed Graney at or. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow on Twitter.

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