Dennis Cassinelli: Fremont Cannon trophy center of football feud

Cannon painted Rebel Red

Cannon painted Rebel Red

The 2017 College Football season has started and the traditional rivalry between the University of Nevada Reno Wolfpack and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Rebels will once again seek to win the coveted Fremont Cannon Trophy. Last November 26th, UNR beat the Las Vegas Rebels 45 -10 to win the right to paint the Trophy blue again. This November 25th in Reno, UNLV will try to even the score and paint the cannon carriage red.

The Fremont Cannon Trophy is a replica of the mountain howitzer used by John C. Fremont during his exploratory expedition through northern and southern Nevada in 1843 and 1844. During that expedition, winter weather threatened to prevent the party from crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains on their way to California. Unable to tow or carry the cannon through the deep snow and steep terrain, Fremont abandoned the bronze cannon in a deep canyon before crossing over Carson Pass. In previous articles, I told about the recovery of this priceless artifact. (Yes, it has been found).

Following the first UNR-UNLV rivalry football game in 1969, a trophy cannon was built by the Kennecott Copper Corporation, Nevada Mines Division. The 545 pound cannon has a 55-mm barrel (2-3/16”) and is valued at over $10,000. It is considered to be one of the best rivalry trophies in the country. The only other rivalry cannon goes to the winner of the Illinois vs. Purdue game each year. The Nevada trophy is the heaviest and most expensive in college football.

The University of Nevada, Reno won the first game in the series called the Battle for Nevada on Thanksgiving Day, 1969 and became the first team to possess the cannon. It has changed hands at least 12 times since then and each time it is painted to match the colors of the winning team’s school (blue for University of Nevada, Reno Wolf Pack and red for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Rebels). UNR has won 25 of the games and UNLV has won 17 of the games for possession of the prized cannon trophy.

For the first 30 years, the team in possession of the gun fired it after each touchdown. This came to a halt in 1999 when during a post-victory melee at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, the UNLV fans tried to lift the cannon in celebration. They succeeded temporarily, but then they dropped the precious trophy and broke it.

It cost the UNLV athletics department $1,500 to refurbish the cannon and it was decided they would never fire it again. During refurbishing, the UNLV officials found inscriptions inside the cannon, including one that read “University of Notta Lotta Victories.” “The “Battle for Nevada” games are always spirited events with fights and brawls, usually fueled by plenty of alcohol, since Sam Boyd Stadium and Mackay Stadium (named after Comstock pioneer John Mackay), are two of the few NCAA football venues to sell alcohol to all spectators of legal age on game days.

In 1978, following UNR’s first victory over UNLV in four seasons, coach Chris Ault was so anxious to get the trophy home, he convinced security at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas to allow the team to disassemble the cannon and take it back to Reno on the airplane as carry-on luggage. The team had to figure out how to break down the cannon, since this task was usually done by the Reserve Officers Training Corps, which UNLV did not have in 1978. The team was allowed to board the plane with the cannon as carry-on luggage As I recall, while on the last flight I took, airport security took away my fingernail file.

UNR Coach Chris Ault once said “It’s the most symbolic “trophy” for winning a state championship in the country and as much a part of the football tradition as the game itself. The Fremont Cannon is such a monumental trophy that we built a spot for it when we built Cashhell Fieldhouse in the 1980s.”

This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli, who can be contacted at, or on his blog at All Dennis’ books sold through this publication will be at a 50 percent discount to reduce inventory and Dennis will pay the postage. These are no longer available from Amazon.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment