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The Back Story: The Fremont Cannon

The winner of the annual rivalry game between Nevada's two universities gets one of college football's most memorable trophies.

UNLV History  |  Oct 22, 2013  |  By Brian Sodoma

The Fremont Cannon (R. Marsh Starks/UNLV Photo Services)

In 1966, Tom Hribar had a plan to steal a cannon from the University of Nevada Reno's campus. As foolish as the prank sounded, no one was able to talk him out of it. Lore, traditions, and even tall tales, like Hribar's, infuse a university with soul.

So Hribar, student body president of Nevada Southern University (soon to become UNLV), headed north in a rented a U-haul, packed it with a few two-by-ten boards, bolt cutters, and saws. In the wee hours of a snowy winter morning, he and a half dozen accomplices unseated a cannon from UNR's campus and moved it about 25 feet before university police thwarted the effort. Hribar was able to get away; several others were less fortunate.

"We hightailed it back to (town) and some of these guys spent a night in the cooler," Hribar said, chuckling over his cowardice. "I was about as immature as you could get, but we gave it a shot."

Thankfully, the UNR leaders kept a sense of humor about the foiled theft and saw it as a chance to create a tradition. According to Hribar, after the prank, 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, for the next couple of years. That tradition petered out rather quickly though.

"I don't know what ever happened to the bell," Hribar said.

Bill Ireland, UNLV's first football coach (and a graduate and former coach at UNR), is credited with the idea to exchange a trophy for the annual rivalry game between UNR and UNLV, now known as the Battle for Nevada. In 1970 Kennecott Copper donated the howitzer cannon replica of the weaponry used in John C. Fremont's 1843 expedition. UNLV was the first team to capture the cannon. Reno has held the cannon for the past eight years, following a five-year streak by UNLV.

Some alumni from those early years assert that had it not been for Hribar's prank and the resulting bell exchange, the Fremont Cannon may not exist today.

"I don't think it would've started if these guys hadn't gone up there and done that," said Jim Cook, a 1969 graduate who was asked to participate in the prank but chose not to.


Of course, such a legendary rivalry can lead to heated moments. UNLV President Len Jessup and UNR President Marc Johnson teamed up to remind both campuses that once we're off the field, we're all Nevadans. (Although we agree with Jessup: The cannon does look better in red.)