Behind the Cannon: How CMU, WMU began playing for Victory Cannon trophy
A gold cannon sits atop a wooden trophy with plaques showing results of games between CMU and Western Michigan.
One of the fiercest rivalries in Michigan has one of the younger trophies on the line each year.
Many know about the rivalry — WMU leads the series 50-39-2 — many know the trophy was created in 2008 and many know the meaning behind the Cannon.
However, few know the story behind how the Victory Cannon was created.
Enter Brian Brunner.
Brunner was a member of the Chippewa football team from 2004-08, playing quarterback. Brunner served primarily as a backup; for his final three years, Brunner backed up Dan LeFevour.
Brunner also served as the vice president of the student-athlete advisory committee and was a "statesman of the football team."
In the spring of 2008, Brunner sat down with Tony Voisin, who is now the associate vice president of student affairs, and said that CMU and WMU's Student Government Associations were working together to create a trophy.
"All of us felt like the big rivalry in Michigan in the MAC is Central-Western," Brunner said. "There should be something for that game. When that idea was posed, that was something we bought into."
At first, Brunner had a suggestion that he thought encapsulated the spirit of the weekend —
"Central-Western (is) a big party weekend, so my idea was the Golden Keg," Brunner said. "That got disregarded. ... It was kind of clever."
The team of Brunner, Voisin, former SGA president Paul Pridgeon — a former track and field athlete — and representatives from WMU established a trophy special to the CMU-WMU rivalry:
The Victory Cannon.
Depending on which side of the trophy is displayed, the cannon on top of the trophy points to the school's city. Of course, when CMU's side is displayed, the cannon points toward Mount Pleasant; when WMU's side is shown, the cannon points toward Kalamazoo.
"Both teams have a cannon they fire off after scores," Brunner said. " ... The presidents ran with it."
Brunner's story doesn't end with the trophy's creation.
Going into the first playing of the Battle for the Victory Cannon, the Chippewas were 4-2 but LeFevour had suffered an ankle injury in the previous game against Temple.
The entire week, Brunner practiced with the first team to give LeFevour a rest with the thought that LeFevour would start that Saturday.
Just 45 minutes before kickoff, former coach Butch Jones approached his backup quarterback and told Brunner he was getting the start.
"I find out less than an hour before kickoff that I'll be starting my senior year against Western Michigan," Brunner said. " ... Sell-out crowd at Kelly/Shorts, it's rocking, first game for the Victory Cannon that I was part of creating (meant a lot)."
The Chippewas won the first trophy game, 38-28. Brunner finished 20-of-28 passing for 346 yards and a touchdown.
"(Winning) was like a meant to be type of thing," Brunner said. "At the end of it, I got to hoist the Victory Cannon trophy that was really full circle. I never envisioned I'd be on the field winning that thing."
After the 2008 victory, the Chippewas won the next two iterations of the game, but have won it two other times since — 2013 and 2017.
Now, coach Jim McElwain said he relishes the opportunity to play for a trophy against an arch rival and wants to go out and win it in 2020.
"It represents something you can carry with you for a year," McElwain said. "Then you get to put it back on the line every year, that's what makes those trophy games so cool and fun to be a part of."
Detroit senior safety Alonzo McCoy said he is excited for the final opportunity to play for the Cannon after winning in 2017.
"Winning the Cannon would be greatest thing this year, it'd be our championship," McCoy said. "This game means more than just winning the Cannon. This is our road to the MAC championship."
The CMU-WMU rivalry and the Victory Cannon mean a lot to Brunner. Helping create the trophy and playing in the inaugural game leaves a legacy beyond football.
Brunner said he is excited to watch the game this year and share that excitement with his soon-to-be five-year-old son.
"I'm excited. ... We'll stay up past his bedtime and watch the Chippewas play the Broncos," Brunner said. "They'll talk about the Cannon (on ESPN2) and he'll get all excited because he thinks it's cool, then I'll get to tell him that dad was part of making that.
"It means a great deal to me, personally."