Boomer the Cannon is a UNT tradition with a history of mystery, two decades of careful renovation by members of a true spirit group and a nickname reportedly bestowed by a Mean Green celebrity.
A 1989 Aerie yearbook article by Rogers Cadenhead ('91) tells the story of the cannon and its caretaker then and now — Rick McKinney ('90), also known today as FirefightnRick. As a senior then, McKinney was on the Talons' cannon crew, helping fire the gun to mark the half and end of football games and the Eagle scores in between.
But the cannon's origins are somewhat murky. One story credits an alumnus for donating the three-foot-long, 285-pound barrel in the 1950s. Another suggests the barrel was cast by students in a metals shop class at some point during the next decade.
McKinney describes the cannon today as about a 7/8 scale replica of an M1841 Six-Pounder Smoothbore Muzzle-loader that was widely used in the U.S.-Mexican War but rendered obsolete by the time of the 1861-1865 "War Between the States."
He says as best as anyone recollects, Boomer was first used at games and on campus between 1969 and 1970. Before the Talons began renovating the cannon in the late 1980s, yearbook photos show it had been displayed during Homecoming parades pulled behind pickups on the back frame of an old Willys Army jeep. The cannon spent years outdoors near the Physical Plant complex until the Talons found it an indoor home in the Coliseum.
Boomer has undergone several transformations. In 1988, McKinney began the long process of removing years' worth of paint and worked odd jobs for money to cut off the barrel and mount it on a new carriage he built with fellow Talon Alex Balic ('89).
Eventually, the original barrel succumbed to a narrowing of its inside walls, so it was replaced with an exact match through a company in Tennessee in the mid '90s. Its most recent refurbishing began in 2002 and ended in 2006, when McKinney debuted the accompanying limber he had built.
Perhaps as interesting as its mysterious origins and painstaking restoration is the legendary tale of how the cannon earned its nickname.
According to Talons lore, alumnus "Mean" Joe Greene ('69) had come back to campus for an award ceremony and was surprised by a blast from the cannon. That's when he nicknamed it Boomer.