The lights come on, the music is turned up and Huskers fans pile into the arena. When Sandstorm by Darude takes over the loudspeakers, arm-flailing fans prepare to battle their neighbor for a chance at snagging a new Huskers T-shirt launched from the floor by Coleman Cooper.

Cooper, an athletic marketing intern at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, operates a T-shirt cannon. Marketing representatives use T-shirt cannons at the Devaney Center, Haymarket Park and even Pinnacle Bank Arena. Using a T-shirt cannon extends the distance an individual is able to distribute promotional gear. This is especially important at venues like PBA to keep the fans engaged in pursuit of new gear.

The typical T-shirt cannon is 100% steel and uses compressed carbon dioxide to launch shirts into the air. Air Cannons products shoot shirts anywhere from 150 feet to 400 feet; the company’s largest cannon could launch shirts over the Statue of Liberty.

T-shirt cannons are most commonly used at sporting events or concerts and festivals to stir up emotion. Equipment resembling a T-shirt cannon dates back as far as the World War II era, according to a Mental Floss article by Jake Rossen. Sailors used the “Holman Projector” to protect themselves from enemies, which could shoot objects such as beer bottles or grenades out of a tube using steam from the ship’s boiler. Since then such technology has been used to launch potatoes, confetti, paintball pellets, T-shirts and other promotional items.

The energy a T-shirt cannon brings to a crowd is electric. It stirs up competition among friends and gets fans on their feet regardless of the current situation on the court. At Nebraska, T-shirt cannons are used to launch Husker merchandise to all 15,390 fans at PBA. Although not all will walk away with a T-shirt, the use of cannons ensures that even those fans in the uppermost bowl have a shot. 

“What goes on during the timeouts and the breaks is part of what makes Nebrasketball so special. The T-shirt cannon plays a key part in creating a memorable Big Ten basketball atmosphere,” Cooper said.

Senior Sports Media and Communication major at the University of Nebraska