The football teams at TCU and SMU battle over an Iron Skillet. The Texas Rangers contend with the Houston Astros for a silver boot. Clearly, sports rivalries are a big deal in these parts, but probably only in Texas would two teams duke it out over possession of a really big gun. It's called El Capitan, a working Civil War-era replica howitzer that's the prize in the Texas Derby, the annual rivalry between FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo. (Ppronounced “Darby,” these matches have a long and rich global soccer history.) This isn’t some piddly trophy. It goes boom, really loudly.
Each year, in Major League Soccer, a handful of cups and trophies are given out to the top team in a given rivalry. The Cascadia Cup goes to the winner of the three-way rivalry between the clubs in Vancouver, Seattle and Portland, while the Atlantic Cup is annually taken by the winner of the season series between D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls. Again, those teams are playing for trinkets to put in a team’s corporate office. Having this working cannon to fight for adds some added pressure to FC Dallas and the Dynamo.
Kevin Lindstrom, a former executive in the FC Dallas ticket sales department, grew up playing soccer and supporting the U.S. National Soccer Teams over the popular global brands such as Manchester United, or Real Madrid. In the league’s inaugural season of 1996, when FC Dallas called the Cotton Bowl home and went by the name of Dallas Burn, Lindstrom had yet to begin working for the team, but was a member of the Burn’s primary supporters group, the Inferno. In 2006, the Burn had been Frisco-based FC Dallas for a couple of years, and with the addition of another Texas team, the Dynamo (which were the relocated San Jose Earthquakes), into the MLS mix, Lindstrom and his fellow die-hard Dallas supporters wanted to “maximize the situation,” by developing a more formal set-up for what is now called the Texas Derby.
Lindstrom and his cohorts already had experience in this line of rivalry development. He had been involved with the creation of the Brimstone Cup, the trophy that goes to the winner of the season series between FC Dallas and the Chicago Fire. Irons had long been in the fire when it was time to distinguish this new regionally budding rivalry.
“Some in the Dallas supporters group thought a cannon would be fitting, based on a few things,” Lindstrom says. “A number of Texas schools, including the University of Texas and Texas A&M University, use cannons to celebrate scoring, but also because of the “Come and Take It” flag – the Gonzalez Flag.
A cannon-purchasing trip by Matt McInnis to Missouri produced El Capitan, and soon Lindstrom and John Bick, a FC Dallas ticket sales rep at the time, were taught how to fire the coolest, most combustible prize in pro soccer, even though Houston wouldn’t be able to fire it for a couple of years until the club moved into a stadium of its own.
“There is no official certification,” Lindstrom explains. “When we first got it, the process of firing the cannon closely resembled the way that actual piece was fired originally – using a gunpowder charge and fuse. The only difference was the use of a ball of wet newspaper rather than a cannon shot.”
Now, when Lindstrom sees El Capitan fired, he can look back knowing he was the first man to fire the prized piece of artillery for the sake of regional soccer pride, right in the face of a large enemy contingent that had flocked to Frisco.
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“My favorite Derby moment was the first time we fired it at a Dallas-Houston match, and Dallas scored first” Lindstrom remembers. “At that time, we fired it after goals, and I got to fire it for the first time as a part of the rivalry. Considering the way it was fired at the time, it was very loud and very cool, but to do so ‘in anger’ was exhilarating.”
As of now, Houston holds a 5-4 advantage in the Texas Derby, though El Capitan has called Toyota Stadium home since 2013, and our home club has a 1-0 advantage heading into Friday’s home match against Houston in Frisco, thanks to a convincing 4-1 victory at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston on May 1. Certainly, keeping El Capitan firing blasts here in North Texas is a priority, but it’s worth noting that Houston has two MLS Cups (2006, 2007) while FC Dallas has lost its only trip to the championship game.
In a perfect Dallas Soccer World, El Capitan will not only remain here in town this season, but will make the loudest celebratory bang of all when the MLS Cup finally comes to spend a winter here with us.
FC Dallas plays against Houston Dynamo Friday night at 8 pm at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, 9200 World Cup Way. For tickets and information, go to www.fcdallas.com.