Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024 | 2 a.m.
There’s real animosity between Las Vegas and Reno. The two cities are historical rivals, especially when it comes to sports, and tempers can run high when Las Vegans and Renoites get to debating the various merits of their hometowns. But Brandon Aiyuk is here to make peace.
The San Francisco 49ers receiver is a Reno product through and through, and he’s playing in his first Super Bowl on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium. There are no Las Vegas natives on either roster, so if locals want to adopt a Nevada kid and root for him to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, Aiyuk is the option.
It would be considered sports sacrilege for some. Aiyuk, however, has love for both cities.
At Super Bowl Opening Night, the 25-year-old star told the assembled media he has never bought into the on and off-field war between Vegas and Reno.
“No, I don’t think so,” Aiyuk said. “My family was all from Vegas, so I felt like Vegas, too.”
Aiyuk played his high school ball at McQueen, a Northern Nevada power that has won six state championships. He was an unrated recruit in the Class of 2016 and went the junior college route, enrolling at Sierra CC in California. His play there earned him a scholarship to Arizona State, where he put up 1,666 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns across two years.
His ASU squad capped the 2018 season with a berth in the Las Vegas Bowl, an experience Aiyuk still remembers fondly.
The 49ers selected Aiyuk in the first round of the 2020 draft (25th overall), and after getting acclimated to the NFL, he has put up back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, including a line of 75 catches, 1,342 yards and seven touchdowns in 2023.
Aiyuk credits his Reno upbringing for putting him on the right path at an early age.
“I went through different challenges in Reno,” he said. “Northern Nevada, which I love. In terms of education, life as a young man and just lessons learned growing up. I feel like that shaped me.
“It’s the place where I grew up. It’s a place where I fell on my face. A place where I got up. It’s a place where I met lifetime friends. It’s a place where I fell in love with playing football. It’s a place where I have a bunch of family now, still today.”
Aiyuk noted that Las Vegas has changed since the last time he played here, with the addition of pro sports teams like the Aces, Raiders and Golden Knights, and said he’s excited about the prospect of Major League Baseball joining the party if the Athletics relocate to the valley.
Aiyuk was in Reno when the Golden Knights clinched the Stanley Cup last year, giving him a taste of what it might be like to celebrate a championship in Las Vegas. Now he has a chance to reach the pinnacle of his sport, in a city he also considers near and dear to his heart.
Fans from both sides are welcome to cheer him on.
“It’s exciting,” Aiyuk said. “In college, my bowl game was here in Las Vegas, and now in the NFL, the Super Bowl game is here in Las Vegas again. I keep getting brought back here. I love it.”