Fired Up For Game Day

Joe Weiner

The game of football is often compared to war. When opposing teams come into Peden Stadium they not only have to face the Bobcats, but also face their artillery. 

With every big Bobcat play comes a boom from two functional cannons located in the northern end-zone. The larger cannon is a 19th century brass civil war replica of a Howitzer, and the smaller cannon is a 10-gauge cannon named “Noisy Cricket,” a reference to “Men in Black.”

The firing of cannons at football games is not a tradition unique to Ohio University. Many professional teams and colleges across the nation use a cannon’s boom to put an exclamation point on big plays. 

Ohio University’s cannon tradition was set in place by Mark Dean, the former assistant professor of Military Sciences, in 2000. 

Dean and his wife relocated to Ohio University in 1999 for an ROTC assignment. Dean’s wife was an assistant athletic director, a position that required her to travel to all the Bobcat’s away football games. Amy Dean saw a school using a brass cannon during an away game. After deliberation at home, the Deans set out to get Ohio University a cannon of its own. 

“I started doing research online and asking around. It’s turns out a man in Coolville, Ohio, had his own cannon foundry where he made brass cannons,” Dean says. The man at the foundry had refurbished all the cannons for The Citadel. That’s when Dean knew he was in the right place. 

The drill he showed Dean for firing the cannon is the same one Ohio University still uses today at games. 

After getting a price list, he presented the idea to Ohio University Athletic Director at the time, Tom Boeh. He was on board to fund it if the ROTC kept up on its maintenance and bought the ammunition. 

But Dean didn’t stop at just one cannon. He wanted another one to shoot off after extra points. He recommissioned the man at the foundry to make a smaller, 10-gauge cannon that was the perfect size and noise level, and thus the “Noisy Cricket” was born. 

For 18 years the Red Leg Society has been shooting off the cannons at games. Red Leg is a military term for field artillery. Members of the society sign up and attend multiple training sessions before they are authorized to fire it at a game.  

“We do our best to heighten the game experience,” Ohio University ROTC Recruiting Officer John Hansen says. “We’re unique because other schools have limitations to when they can fire their cannons. We get to be part of the game. The cannons are right by the visitor’s section, so it’s exciting to give them a scare.”

The firing of the cannons is more than just a show, or a gag to scare visitors. The cannons mean much more to those  involved.

Junior Sam Coffaro is a cadet in the ROTC and has fired the cannons at games before. 

“It’s cool to represent the ROTC program and the army in general at those games,” Coffaro says. “It means a lot to me because I am in a field artillery unit in the national guard, so Red Leg is near and dear to my heart.”

The firing of cannons is a part of the game day experience at Ohio University. Everyone in attendance gets to be part of the tradition. It means as much to the ROTC members firing the cannon as it does to the fans watching them. 

It’s a huge morale booster for our guys and program to be on national television,”  Hansen says. “It’s like a rite of passage to them, and we get a lot more pats on the back than complaints.”