Culver’s Cannon gives Jackrabbit touchdowns extra bang

IAN LACK Reporter


There’s a sound that follows every touchdown that South Dakota State’s football teamscores at home games. A loud, thundering “boom!” echoes throughout the stadium as the crowds in the stands cheer, and six points are added to the Jack’s score. When heads turn to see the source of the sound above the roar of the crowd, a puff of white smoke, floating out of the mouth of an interesting looking cannon is the sight they see.

In military terms, this cannon is a 75mm Pack Howitzer M1, or simply an M116. This cannon, once an active weapon in World War II, now marks when the team enters the field and the points gained by the Jacks with each touchdown. But how did the cannon end up at this university’s campus?

Prior to the 2014 football season, Seth Skogen, owner of the Brookings Culver’s restaurant, visited North Dakota State University with a friend to watch one of the university’s home football games. Unlike SDSU at the time, NDSU fired a cannon each time the Bison scored. Taken by this game tradition, Skogen felt inspired to bring a cannon to SDSU.

Once returning to the Brookings campus, Skogen spoke with Jackrabbit Sports Properties about bringing a cannon into home football game traditions. After much investigation, Skogen came into contact with retired Sergeant Russ “Smoke” Chavez through SDSU Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.

Sergeant Chavez felt passionate about bringing a stronger military presence into these home football games. He agreed that a cannon would be a perfect tradition for university athletics. After contacting several people within the U.S. military, Sgt. Chavez located a cannon in Fort Knox, Kent.

“The cannon was ready to be decommissioned and melted down for scrap. So, it was kind of a rescue, the way that we found the cannon,” Skogen said. Sgt. Chavez was able to halt the decommission of the cannon and get it sent to the Brookings campus. But, the cannon wasn’t ready to use then. The cannon was set for decommission for a reason; it wasn’t in great physical shape.

Sgt. Chavez came into contact with Kevin Harms from the Brookings-based Industrial Machine & Engineering Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). Harms, with his team, worked to adapt the cannon to fire 10-gauge blank shotgun shells to fire safely, and loudly, at each of the home games.

The cannon made its first appearance during the Sept. 20 home game of the 2014 football season to much approval from fans in the crowds. However, watching the cannon fire at each home game isn’t the only way that fans can interact with and appreciate the cannon.

Each Monday, a fan over the age of 18 is randomly selected from a drawing of applicants to fire the cannon at the Saturday home game. The fans become the “Honorary Artillery Captain” of the game.

“Honorary captains receive four free tickets to the game, some Culver’s gear, and, of course, we also provide the opportunity for you to fire the cannon at the game,” Skogen said. “You can sign up here in the store to become a captain, or you can go to our Facebook page, the SDSU Jackrabbit Nation, and sign up there as well.”

Each Honorary Artillery Captain is accompanied by the Army ROTC cadets, who manage the cannon with the captain in the southeast corner of the field. When the cannon is not serving its purpose at games, it is locked in a shed on campus.

Seth Skogen is proud of the collaboration between Army ROTC, the Culver’s restaurant, Industrial Machine & Engineering and Jackrabbit Athletics. The work that resulted from this, the Culver’s Cannon, is something he looks forward to seeing every game.

“I’ve been really proud to be able to support SDSU and our veterans and military with the cannon,” Skogen said. “There seems to be a great fan connection to the cannon when it goes off and there’s that 30-foot puff of smoke and the cannon backfires. It’s another level of fun in the home games.”

Students can follow the cannon on its own Instagram, Facebook and Twitter pages.