From a failed prank, to a full-blown tradition, the story of the “Battle for Nevada” is as colorful as the cannon itself.
The battle for the Fremont Cannon, has its roots in a foiled prank from 1966. Student body president Tom Hribar of Nevada Southern University (soon to become UNLV) attempted to steal a cannon from the University of Nevada, Reno's campus. While the plan was unsuccessful, UNR leaders kept a sense of humor about the attempted theft and saw it as a chance to create a tradition.
The Original Trophy
The cannon wasn’t the first trophy exchanged in the new tradition in the battle between the Nevada schools. Originally, a bell from a clock tower on the UNR campus was exchanged between the two schools' basketball teams, going to the winner of that year's game.
The bell exchange ended a few years later, when Bill Ireland, UNLV's first football coach (and a graduate and former coach at UNR), proposed a trophy exchange for the annual rivalry game between UNR and UNLV.
Although the UNR Wolf Pack won the first game between the schools in 1969, the UNLV Rebels were the first team to win the trophy when it was awarded after the 1970 game — a 42-20 Rebels win.
In 1970, the Nevada Mines Division of the Kennecott Copper Corp. donated the replica of the weaponry used in American explorer John C. Fremont's 1843 expedition through Oregon, Nevada and California. The heaviest and most expensive trophy in college football, the Fremont Cannon weighs about 545 pounds and cost $10,000 to build.
The howitzer cannon, which was fired off after every score during the game, became permanently silenced in 2000, when Rebel players and fans accidentally dropped the trophy while hoisting it in celebration of their victory.
The rivalry wasn’t always kept on the football field. When the cannon was being repaired after the damages from the 2000 victory celebration, UNLV officials found some fighting words inside the cannon. The inscription of “University of Notta Lotta Victories” made fun of UNLV’s not-so-stellar record of wins. In true Rebel spirit, UNLV replied back with an inscription of “University of Northern Rejects.”
The playful rivalry continues to this day, as the two schools fight for the right to paint the Fremont Cannon.