The first game between the teams was in 1969 with Nevada defeating UNLV. The following year the cannon was built and UNLV became the first team to win the cannon. The current holder is UNLV, following a 27–22 victory in 2013 at Mackay Stadium in Reno in front of the stadium's second-largest sellout crowd of 32,521. Prior to this meeting, Nevada had set the longest win streak in the rivalry, holding the cannon for eight consecutive years.
In 1967 Bill Ireland was hired by Nevada Southern University (the predecessor to UNLV) to coach their new football team, and by 1969 came up with the idea to have a trophy as a symbol of the rivalry between the two schools. Ireland was the first football coach of the UNLV Rebels, and an alumnus and former coach of Nevada. The cannon was donated by Kennecott Copper and is a replica of a howitzer cannon that explorer John C. Fremont used on an expedition in 1843, and allegedly left in a snowdrift in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The cannon contains a 55 millimetres (2.2 in) barrel, weighs 545 pounds (247 kg), and cost $10,000 to build, making it the heaviest and most expensive trophy in college football. The cannon is painted the winning team's color, red for UNLV, and blue for Nevada.
The two schools first played each other on Thanksgiving Day, 1969, the game was actually played the Saturday before Thanksgiving (Nov 22 1969) and was homecoming, with the Wolf Pack winning 30–28, however construction of the cannon had yet to be completed. The first competition for the cannon was in 1970 when the Rebels won 42–30 in Las Vegas. In 1978, following Nevada's first victory over UNLV in four seasons, Chris Ault convinced security at McCarran International Airport to allow the team to disassemble the cannon and take it as carry-on luggage back to Reno. The team had to figure out how to break down the cannon, a task that was usually done by the Reserve Officers' Training Corps, which UNLV did not have in 1978.
The Fremont Cannon was refurbished by the UNLV athletics department at a cost of $1,500 in 2000 following damage after a UNLV victory celebration wherein fans and players attempted to lift the cannon and dropped it. Traditionally, the team possessing the cannon would fire it each time they scored a touchdown during the rivalry game; however, the cannon has not been fired since the restoration due to the damage it received.
Students of Nevada's two public universities share a mutual disdain for each other, as evidenced by the numerous blue "FUNLV" and red "FUNR" shirts (UNR being shorthand for University of Nevada, Reno) at the stadium on rivalry days. Many Nevada students hail from Las Vegas and view UNLV as a glorified community college; UNLV students see Nevada as an overrated, stodgy institution in an uncultured part of the state.
In 1993 Wolf Pack coach Jeff Horton left Nevada after one season to coach for UNLV in what is referred to as the "Red Defection".
The rivalry is heated inside the stadium as well. Sam Boyd Stadium and Mackay Stadium are two of the few NCAA football venues remaining to sell alcohol to all spectators of legal age on game day (many institutions either do not sell alcohol at all, or sell it only to those seated in luxury boxes). This, combined with the heated nature of the rivalry, has resulted in numerous fights in the stands. In 1995, UNLV players allegedly started a pre-game brawl, which prompted the Wolf Pack to run up the score in their 55–32 victory against UNLV. After the game, UNLV player Quincy Sanders threw his helmet in the direction of Nevada head coach Chris Ault.
In 2003 a Nevada fan was charged with battery for throwing a half full plastic beer bottle at UNLV head coach John Robinson, striking him near his head.
On August 18, 2010, Nevada announced that they would join the Mountain West Conference starting in either 2011 or 2012; their entry was later confirmed for 2012. Since UNLV has been in the Mountain West Conference since 1999, the annual rivalry game is once again a conference game. When the MW expanded to 12 football members in 2013 and split into divisions for that sport, both schools were placed in the West Division, assuring annual matchups for the foreseeable future. Before 2012, the last meeting of the two schools as conference rivals was in 1995, when both schools were members of the Big West Conference.