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Without cannon, Fort Lewis College football looking elsewhere for boom

The cannon was brought back to life once in 2015, as seen here, but was shelved for good at the end of the 2019 season. (Durango Herald file)

Dear Action Line: I understand that since Fort Lewis College football stopped firing its famous cannon after touchdowns, the team hasn’t won a game at all. Do you know why they stopped using the cannon, and whether they might bring it back? We’re zero and (big number here) since the cannon was canned. Yep. We need the cannon! – Boom, Then Gloom

Dear Boom: The gridders up on the mesa definitely need something. They haven’t had a winning season since 2015.

Over a long history, which began when FLC became a four-year institution in 1963, the Skyhawks (Raiders until 1994) have suffered a lot of downs. For example, they have captured just one conference title. Ever.

But there have been a few ups, too.

And there is a perhaps surprising legacy easily traceable to today’s NFL. Check this out. Really, Action Line is not making anything up.

From 1992 to 1995, Gus Bradley was defensive coordinator at FLC. If you follow the NFL you know this name.

As defensive coordinator with the Seattle Seahawks, he was on the ground floor in creating the team’s patented “Legion of Boom” defense. (You know, the one that shredded the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 48 in 2014?) Bradley was head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2013 to 2016, and is now defensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts.

Robert Prince, FLC’s offensive coordinator in 1994 and 1995, is now wide receivers coach for the Dallas Cowboys. Todd Wash, FLC head coach from 1996 to 1999, is now defensive line coach for the Carolina Panthers. Scottie Hazelton, a defensive backs coach at FLC after his Skyhawk playing days, is now defensive coordinator at Michigan State; he coached in the NFL at Jacksonville under Bradley.

At the core of this coaching germination was Dave Preszler, who arrived with Bradley in 1992 as offensive coordinator. Preszler was head coach in 1994 and 1995, then FLC’s assistant director, and later full-on director, of athletics.

“What a great bunch of talented coaches,” Preszler said last week. “Little did we know at that time they’d all be coaching at such high levels.”

And we should mention that Gary Barnett, FLC’s head coach in 1982 and 1983, had good runs as head coach at Northwestern from 1992 to 1998 and the University of Colorado from 1999 to 2005.

So there’s all that. And it’s interesting that Bradley, Preszler and current FLC head coach Johnny Cox crossed paths when Cox, a speedy, record-setting wide receiver, played at FLC during the 1992 and 1993 seasons. Cox is still the school’s all-time receiving leader by yardage.

Now let’s get to the cannon.

It was donated to the school in the 1970s, and thus began the tradition to fire it whenever the Skyhawks scored a touchdown. Even if you were downtown, you’d hear the boom and knew the team was doing well.

The cannon took a hiatus in about 2010 when the barrel fractured; alumni donated several thousand dollars to have it repaired, and it was back in commission for the 2015 season.

Apparently, it was last used in 2019. The last time the Skyhawks won was Oct. 5, 2019, 28-9 over Adams State. Since that day, the cannon-less team has lost 39 consecutive games.

Action Line contacted Travis Whipple, FLC’s athletics director since July 2022, to see if the cannon might have a future. (The cannon’s use predated Whipple’s arrival in Durango.)

As further background, know that the change from Raiders to Skyhawks was made in 1994 to rid the school of a culturally insensitive mascot. Also know that Skyler is the dressed-up Skyhawk mascot.

“Here is the response as I reached out to multiple areas on campus,” Whipple said:

“Given the connection between the cannon and the Raider mascot, the administration decided several years ago that firing the cannon was not consistent with who we are. Also, they were worried that the cannon hurt Skyler’s ears.”

So, there will be no more boom, unless one is lowered on a future Skyhawks opponent by other means.

Quarry follow-up

A few weeks ago, Action Line wrote about the old quarry up Horse Gulch, not far from the Third Street trailhead. Sandstone mined there was used on several buildings at Fort Lewis College starting in the 1950s. But the quarry’s history goes back much further.

A local man, Tom Cummins, shared some family lore about the quarry. His great-grandfather, Patrick Francis Cummins, emigrated to Durango from County Galway, Ireland, in 1882. Several siblings soon joined him, including Michael and Daniel. All three were stone masons.

Michael, according to stories passed down through the family for generations, operated a quarry at Horse Gulch. The three helped construct several historic structures including the Strater Hotel, the old First National Bank at Ninth Street and Main Avenue, the old Mercy Hospital, and the old county fairgrounds and its “stall row.”

Cummins also found an old story written by “a very young-looking John Peel” about a guy named Jim Sartoris, who had worked on the fairgrounds under a Works Progress Administration program in 1935.

Said Cummins:

“The article notes, ‘Laborers quarried sandstone blocks from Horse Gulch and brought them to the fairgrounds. Sartoris can still picture tobacco juice running down the cheeks of ‘Uncle’ Dan Cummins, the man who cut the stones.’”

Tom Cummins said the family has identified at least 30 houses around town built with brick and Horse Gulch stone by the brothers, including Patrick’s and Daniel’s still-standing homes.

“Assuming family lore is accurate, that means the Horse Gulch quarry has been around since at least the late 1800s,” Cummins said. “And why would family lore not be true? The Irish have never been known for stretching the truth!”

Email questions and suggestions to actionline@durangoherald.com or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. Trivia: Who is No. 2 all-time in receiving yardage at FLC? Answer next week.

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