Joe Santoro: Nevada’s Roberson wants Fremont Cannon back where he found it
Reagan Roberson just wants to put the Fremont Cannon back where he found it.
“When I got here the cannon was blue and sitting in the corner (at Cashell Fieldhouse),” the Nevada Wolf Pack senior tight end said this week. “When I saw it I just thought, ‘Wow, that’s special.’”
The cannon, awarded to the winner of the annual UNLV-Nevada football game, has not made its home at the end of the hallway in the Wolf Pack’s Cashell football offices since November 2018. There’s an alarming emptiness under a plaque that reads “Fremont Corner reserved for the Fremont Cannon. The largest rival trophy in America.”
The cannon’s absence the past 23 months has left Cashell feeling a bit like a McDonald’s without the golden arches. The Pack has certainly been a football program without its heart and soul.
Roberson, a Douglas High graduate, first saw a blue cannon up close and personal at Cashell in 2017 when he was a Wolf Pack freshman.
“I grew up watching those games,” said Roberson, the Sierra League Defensive Player of the Year his senior year at Douglas. “I could see it was an emotional game and I saw how the guys always played their hearts out. So, for me, seeing the cannon (painted) red, it’s tough. And for (the current Pack) freshmen, for them to come here and the cannon is not here, that’s wrong and we have to correct that quickly.”
It might now just be a matter of days before that wrong is righted. The wrong Roberson speaks of is the fact that the cannon is now painted a garish red and has lived in Las Vegas for the past two years, thanks to UNLV’s 34-29 win in 2018 in Las Vegas and last year’s 33-30 overtime win in Mackay Stadium.
“It’s been a long waiting period waiting for this game,” Roberson said.
Since the cannon was already blue when he arrived on campus in 2017, Roberson has never had the utter joy of painting it blue and covering that ugly, crude, so typically Vegas, red paint. His last chance to bring the cannon back home where it belongs and paint it a stylish, tasteful, respectful Wolf Pack blue, will be this Saturday night (7:30 p.m., Fox Sports One) when the Pack plays in the very first college football game at the Rebels’ new Allegiant Stadium.
The stadium, which so typically Vegas can likely be seen from neighboring solar systems, cost nearly $2 billion to construct. The cannon, as far as Roberson is concerned, is priceless and will be the most valuable treasure in the crass, over-the-top, look-what-we-built, so typically Vegas building. Allegiant, though, is Las Vegas’ trophy. The cannon belongs to Northern Nevada.
It’s time to erase the pain of the last two seasons when the Pack (and all of Northern Nevada) suffered the most agonizing and excruciating losses in the 51-year-old history of the Silver State showdown.
In 2018 the Wolf Pack did the unthinkable, blowing a 23-0 lead. Yes, to the Rebels. And, yes, to Rebel coach Tony Sanchez, a guy who built his reputation as the head coach of the only high school (Bishop Gorman) in an area of roughly 1 million residents that could openly recruit.
Last year the Pack quickly fell behind 17-0 and 27-13 to Sanchez (who was already fired at the time) and Rebels, only to tie the game at 27-27 with 92 seconds left in regulation and take a 30-27 lead in overtime. The Pack lost on a 19-yard pass from Kenyon Oblad to Steve Jenkins right in front of the Zonies and to make things ridiculously worse, the Zonies and the Pack started to punch the Rebels in the head and tried to steal their helmets. It was like someone stuck a scene from Keeping Up With the Kardashians onto the end of the Godfather.
“These past two years have been tough,” Roberson said, “especially last year.”
Roberson then said something that should make everyone in Minden and Gardnerville, let alone the rest of Northern Nevada, feel proud. He didn’t sugarcoat what happened last year at Mackay, especially the ugliness after the game. He didn’t make excuses, didn’t scowl at reporters who asked about it and he didn’t justify it.
He owned it completely. And you can be sure he will never allow it to happen again as long as he’s wearing the silver and blue. Roberson, after all, grew up watching Wolf Pack players who wore that uniform that left their hearts and souls on the field trying to win that cannon. Yes, of course, it’s OK to lose. It’s painful and it hurts. But you don’t ever make matters worse by shaming the university, the uniform and the community by acting like Kim, Kourtney and Khloe in a catfight in a club fighting over a point guard or power forward.
“We played bad and we embarrassed ourselves at the end of the game,” Roberson said. “None of that should have happened.”
The Wolf Pack might play badly again this Saturday. Don’t count on it. The Pack is roughly a 10-point favorite and could win by four touchdowns. But anything can happen in this rivalry (see the last two years).
But you can be sure they won’t embarrass themselves. Seniors like Roberson won’t allow it.
“At the end of the day you have to act like professionals,” the 6-foot-1, 245-pound Roberson said. “We went (last year) to win and we lost. You have to respect that and be respectful about it.”
Roberson, whose Wolf Pack highlight was catching the game-winning touchdown pass in an Arizona Bowl victory over Arkansas State in 2018, doesn’t play for individual glory. Individual glory, after all, doesn’t come often to a guy with just six catches over his 35-game Wolf Pack career thus far.
Roberson plays for silver and blue and personal pride, his love of the game and competition, his Northern Nevada community, his family and friends and for his current and former Wolf Pack and Douglas High teammates.
He came to the University of Nevada because it is the only school he ever wanted to play for, the community is the only one he ever wanted to play for and the cannon is the only trophy he ever wanted to win.
“For me, playing in this game, it’s huge,” he said. “I’m not taking anything for granted.”
Roberson heard from the cannon master this week. Former Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault talked to the team on Monday about the importance of cannon week. It was Ault’s Pack teams, after all, that Roberson watched win eight cannon games (2005-12) in a row.
“Coach Ault came in full of fire,” Roberson said. “He comes in hot and preaches toughness, the history of the game and what it took for those past teams to get it done.”
Part of getting it done, Roberson said, is not acting like a WWE pro wrestler who just lost a championship match and then found it necessary to hit his opponent over the head with a chair.
“Coach (Jay) Norvell talks about keeping a (Wolf Pack) blue head all the time, to stay even keel,” Roberson said. “No matter what happens you stay relaxed, stay clam and refer back to your training.”
Roberson was trained, from the very first time he ventured north from Minden and Gardnerville to his seat at Mackay Stadium, to win the cannon with class and dignity and put it back where it belongs.
Just like he found it.
“As far as I’m concerned, being local, this is the only game on the schedule this year,” Roberson said.