Parts of it were everywhere, strewn about the room, red splattered on all of its surfaces — like a scene from the Saw movies.
It’s no way to see the Fremont Cannon.
The most expensive trophy in college sports was delivered back to UNLV with the football team’s school record-setting 34-29 comeback over UNR on Nov. 24. And with that triumph comes the responsibility to paint it scarlet. It will stay in UNLV school colors for as long as the football team retains the win over UNR.
The trophy's first taste of the spotlight comes Jan. 28 when it will be displayed at the Student Union for students, faculty, and staff. On Jan. 29, the cannon will be set up from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Thomas & Mack concourse so fans can grab a picture with the hardware before the Runnin' Rebels see if they can replicate football team's win over the Wolf Pack.
The trophy's transformation began Nov. 26, when fresh off the conquest members of the football team, staff, faculty, and students pass around paintbrushes to dab a first coat of red on the cannon. Then the real work started.
The cannon was hauled from Pida Plaza to the campus paint shop, located west of Lied Library and north of the Thomas & Mack Center. That’s where paint shop supervisor Baron Pace and his team took over.
“I was sending texts out when I saw [the team] starting to come back in the game,” Pace said. “I said, ‘You might want to tune in and watch the Rebel game. They might be bringing some work for us.’”
On the first day of work, the cannon is brought into a spray booth, like you’d use to paint a car (the shop, in fact, paints campus golf carts too). It’s a stark-white enclosure with rows of blinding fluorescents beaming light to the center of the room from every angle.
There, workers remove the brackets that keep the cannon’s brass barrel in place — one of which still read “University of Notta Lotta Victories,” courtesy of Reno’s crew. The 200-some-odd pound barrel is taken out of the booth, while pins that fix the wheels to the carriage’s shaft are knocked loose.
Painters run a rod through the wheels to suspend them between two ladders so they can easily be spun while the painters work. The tail is rested on jacks, and everything gets a coat of paint stripper for the first line of attack. After the stripper takes care of the big stuff, any remaining paint is removed with hand tools from the oak carriage parts.
Then it’s time for Rick Agrellas to get down to business: primer, paint, and clear coat. Agrellas is in his 20th year with UNLV, more than 18 in the paint shop, and is mulling retirement. His first time with the cannon was in 2000, the year that kicked off UNLV’s longest stint with the hardware — a five-year run. This is his fourth time painting the cannon, so he gets to run the show when it comes to the trophy.
“His passion actually bled on to me," Pace said. "He had me care about it even more than I thought I did.”
Agrellas had watched the game in Reno with his in-laws, former Las Vegans who moved north 10 years ago.
“They said, you might get that cannon back,” he said. “I was thinking about it near the end when they scored to get it out. It's a little extra special. That's when I make a lot of new friends. All of a sudden nobody that you know or that's really talked to you comes down here and wants to see it or take a picture with it.”
The paint is Dodge Viper red. To give it a bit more flare this year, Agrellas used a metallic flake mix-in. The new coat would immediately grab your attention even if you weren’t fine-tuned to the subtleties of scarlet. The last time Agrellas painted the cannon, in 2015, he changed the undercoat before applying the red paint and some in Athletics noticed the change immediately.
Back in 2000, the cannon underwent some repairs and UNLV officials found some fighting words inside the cannon. Counterparts in Reno had hidden an inscription: “University of Notta Lotta Victories.” UNLV returned the favor by sending the cannon last time with a “University of Northern Rejects” inscription inside the other bracket. The UNR crew ground it out during their tenure.
This time, “Vegas Strong” was considered for the inscription. Instead, that slogan was applied to the side of the cannon.
“Vegas Strong” was a nice sentiment that includes everyone, Agrellas said. Still, “The football team kind of likes the whole, 'They put something, we put something [sparring tradition].' I guess [coach Tony Sanchez] uses it for motivation. So I put it back out there to them..”
As Pace surveyed the cannon parts, he mused to another painter that the university up north likes to be called Nevada more than Reno.
“So we have to work that in,” he said.
Now the two brackets read, “11-24-18 UNLV 34 winner” on one side of the cannon and “11-24-18 Reno 29 loser” on the other.