What’s with the cannon?

Joe Davis

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A loud bang from the corner of the end zone alerts fans in the stadium and surrounding neighborhoods that the Sacramento State Hornets football team has scored a touchdown.

The cannon has no name but it has become a fixture at Hornet Stadium on game days.

The tradition of cannons in college football has unknown origins. Many well-known programs throughout the country have adopted the cannon as a part of an in-game activity. The Hornets’ cannon has been at Sac State for more than eight years but its original home could not be further from the football field.

In 1984 the Sac State theater department put together the production “Mother Courage.” Bob Musser was just a young student at the time working for the theater department building props. The order came in for a prop cannon and Musser took the lead on the construction.

The high-powered prop weapon was built out of parts from various other props. A borrowed tube to act as a barrel and finagled wheels to help the big gun roll gave birth to a durable prop cannon which would last for years to come.

Mark Haney, who retired less than four years ago, also worked in the theater department at the time. He helped continue improvements on the cannon when another production came around called “Major Barbara” directed by G.B. Shaw.

“I remember we worked on that thing until the last minute” said Haney. “We worked hard to get it done and placed on a platform. We barely made curtain call.”

In the production, the cannon took on somewhat of a lead role. The storyline of the play was based around a man who opened a foundry. The cannon was the first product cast in the foundry which helped to establish the character’s company.

In the tradition of Smokey the Cannon at the University of Texas, which has been a part of the football program in Austin for 58 years, Sac State brought in the theater’s cannon to help bring an explosive element to the stadium experience.

The Hornet athletics marketing staff has been borrowing the cannon since before records were primarily kept on computers.

“I used to have a box with files,” said Haney. “The football program would pay around $50 a season and I would write it down on a sheet of paper that I kept in a box that was stored on a desk in the basement of the theater.”

With safety being on the forefront of Sac State athletics marketing’s mind, it hired a pyrotechnics company to oversee the discharge of the cannon. The pyrotechnics team takes the lead on packing charges providing explosions during scoring plays and field entrances.

The cannon is fired after every scoring play and five percussions can be heard during the Hornets’ entrance onto the field.

It is not known exactly when the cannon became a part of Hornet stadium tradition but it should be here for years to come.

“We haven’t received any complaints so far,” said Sac State athletics marketing director Adam Primas. “The feedback that I get is positive and the fans have come to expect to hear the cannon.”

At a school with limited traditions, the cannon is a welcome symbol of school spirit.

“The cannon being fired usually means something good,” Primas said. “Hopefully we will hear that big bang a lot more because it means that we have scored a lot of points.”

Joe Davis can be reached at josephdavis@csus.edu. 

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