FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo battle it out every year for the best and most distinct “trophy” among MLS rivalries. No matter the sport, Houston and Dallas rival for supremacy in the state of Texas and when the Dynamo relocated to the Space City, an instant rivalry was born which necesitated that the clubs go big with the trophy.
It was the brainchild of the FC Dallas and Dynamo's front offices to go out and purchase the Civil War-era Howitzer, buying the cannon from a man in Missouri and bringing it back to Frisco. But in the early years of the rivalry, the cannon sat dormant – little more than a marketing gimmick.
Houston kept possession during the first two years of the rivalry, and “El Capitan” had a fairly permanent home down south. But the Dynamo, playing at Robertson Stadium on the campus of the University of Houston, were by law not allowed to fire the cannon, relegating it to a corner of the stadium out of sight. It was only when FC Dallas won it in 2008, fairly bizarrely on away goals, that the howitzer began to take on a life of its own.
Dallas prominently displayed “El Capitan” on the stage at FC Dallas Stadium, and went through the local fire department to get a front-office employee authorized to fire the cannon. They took full advantage of the new toy, shooting it off after every goal and every win. While there are certainly historic rivalry trophies around the league such as the Cascadia Cup and the Rocky Mountain Cup, only the cannon can be used year-round as a reminder of who is on top in the regional rivalry.
Perhaps having seen their rivals to the north fire it off one too many times, Houston wouldn’t make the same mistake in their new stadium. The move of the Dynamo to BBVA Compass Stadium turned the tide in the importance of “El Capitan” to the Houston faithful.
Having won the cannon in 2011 on a late Geoff Cameron goal in Frisco, the Dynamo secured a permit in early 2012 to fire the howitzer in their new stadium and they’ve taken full advantage, integrating the trophy into their game-day experience. It’s become a BBVA Compass Stadium tradition to wheel the cannon to the middle of the field before every game and have a Dynamo celebrity shoot “El Capitan” off before kick off – similar to FC Dallas' tradition of scarfing the Lamar Hunt statue.
“They don’t let us play with the cannon” goalkeeper Tally Hall joked to MLSsoccer.com ahead of 2012's lone meeting between the clubs. “I’ve written a formal request to play with it on my own free time, but I guess they didn’t get it. It’s a big deal. It’s something the fans are proud of, they sing songs about it and it makes it a big deal for us.”
WATCH: FC Dallas want El Capitan back
While even the most ardent FC Dallas supporter has to concede trophy case superiority to their neighbors to the south, Sunday’s game represents a unique opportunity for the club to inflict a little bit of pain on their rivals, throwing a wrench into the new tradition of the Orange. Meanwhile, down in Houston, claiming FC Dallas isn’t as big of a rival as they once were is the chic thing to do. But make no mistake: losing the cannon this weekend in Frisco would sting until the two clubs meet again.
“I think in years past, at Robertson, the cannon was on display, but not all fans truly understood there was a trophy in the rivalry to be won,” said Stephen Eastepp, Managing Editor of SB Nation’s Dynamo Theory.
“I’m sure there are still fans out there that don’t know we could lose it on Sunday depending on the game’s results – but I guarantee if it’s not at a match in the future, fans will be asking questions. That’s one of the great parts about how the club integrated it into the game day festivities. If we lose it [and I hope that never happens], fans will want it back more than ever before.”