CSU’s storied cannon: Bringing the noise for 97 years

CSU President Tony Frank fired Comatose last fall at the final game played at Hughes Stadium.

The Colorado State University Alumni Association is counting down to a special event and major announcement on I Love CSU Day, Tuesday, April 18, with a series of articles about some our most-beloved and enduring University traditions.

The cannon fired at CSU football games is one of the University’s longest-running traditions, and certainly the loudest. “Comatose,” a 1918 French 75mm field gun managed by ROTC cadets, has been a booming presence at football games since 1920. Every attendee of a CSU football game has been privy to the startling sound of Comatose being fired before kickoff, after touchdowns and field goals, and at the end of every game.

But the cannon’s outbursts aren’t just a fan favorite. They also echo CSU’s heritage. The 1862 Morrill Act led to the creation of land-grant universities that promised to provide life-changing higher education to anyone ­with the talent and motivation to earn a degree.

Rich history

The act required schools to provide military instruction, and participation was compulsory for male students. Training became more formal with the advent of the Reserve Officers’ Training Program (ROTC) in 1916. And though mandatory participation was dropped in 1962, the cannon’s continued use this year will signify 101 years of ROTC history.

“To me, the cannon is a visible symbol of our role as a land-grant mission, demonstrating a deep respect and connection to all of our veterans and their families,” said Kristi Bohlender, CSU Alumni Association executive director. “The Colorado State University Alumni Association is proud to support this tradition and our students and alumni who have been involved in the ROTC program.”

Amy Van Dyken in wheelchair with cadet firing cannon.
Six-time Olympic gold medalist and CSU alumna Amy Van Dyken has served as guest cannoneer.

The original cannon used during football games was not the Comatose we know and love today. The onset of World War II meant a recall for the modernization of all 1897 French 75mm artillery pieces. A loaner cannon was used until 1952 when Comatose found its way back to CSU, thanks to a generous donation by the 5th Army.

“I am a fan of CSU football, so every time I go to a game and hear the cannon during the National Anthem or after we score it is a great reminder of the history and traditions of our great University,” Kevin Keefe, Alumni Association board member, said.

ROTC plays key role

The cannon was an avid traveler before finding its permanent home at CSU. It’s said that rowdy ROTC members would fire Comatose on the road to stir up trouble during their travels. Today members of ROTC still maintain, transport and fire the cannon at every football game.

“Every week we have a guest cannoneer selected by the University to fire the cannon. This has allowed us to meet a lot of school faculty and influential members of the community,” Cadet Spens Cook said. “President Frank himself fired the cannon last season. Working on the cannon crew has been a memorable experience, and I am honored to be a part of this historic CSU tradition.”

You’re invited!

Students, faculty and staff, alumni, and friends and invited to join us outside the Iris & Michael Smith Alumni Center on the north side of the new stadium on Tuesday, April 18, at 4:30 p.m., for a special event and announcement celebrating the past, present and future of CSU traditions.