Cannon at LSU
|No. 20, 33, 80|
|Position:||Halfback / fullback / tight end|
|Date of birth:||August 2, 1937|
|Place of birth:||Philadelphia, Mississippi|
|Height:||6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)|
|Weight:||216 lb (98 kg)|
|High school:||Baton Rouge (LA) Istrouma|
|NFL draft:||1960 / Round: 1 / Pick: 1|
|AFL draft:||1960 / Round: 1 / Pick: territorial|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Career NFL statistics|
|Player stats at PFR|
William Abb Cannon (born August 2, 1937) is a former American football player. He attended Louisiana State University (LSU), where he played college football as a halfback for the LSU Tigers. Cannon was twice named a consensus All-American, helped the 1958 LSU team to a national championship, and won the Heisman Trophy in 1959. He was selected as the first overall pick the 1960 NFL draft and as a first-round territorial pick in the 1960 American Football League draft, resulting in a contract dispute that ended in court. Cannon played professionally in the American Football League (AFL) for the Houston Oilers and Oakland Raiders before ending his football career with the Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League (NFL).
A two-time AFL All-Star, Cannon led the league in rushing and all-purpose yards in 1961. He was named the most valuable player of the first two AFL championship games, which were won by the Oilers. He was moved to tight end after being traded to the Raiders, with whom he won another league championship in 1967. That season he played in the second AFL-NFL World Championship game, retroactively known as Super Bowl II, in which his team was defeated by the Green Bay Packers.
Cannon became a dentist after retiring from profession football. In 1983, after a series of bad real estate investments, he became involved in a counterfeiting scheme and served 2½ years in prison. In 1995 he was hired as a dentist at Louisiana State Penitentiary, a position he still holds. He was inducted into the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame in 1975, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1976, and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008.
- 1 Early life and high school
- 2 College career
- 3 Professional career
- 4 Personal and later life
- 5 Legacy
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Early life and high school
Cannon was born in Neshoba County, Mississippi to Harvey and Virgie Cannon, and moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana when his father got a job there during World War II. He attended Istrouma High School in Baton Rouge, where he was noted for his speed and strength, and became a star athlete in football and track. In football, Cannon scored 39 touchdowns his senior year in 1955, in which he was named All-State and All-America and led the Istrouma Indians to a state championship. He set a state scoring record of 229 points, even though he often played only in the first half of games. In track, he ran the 100-yard dash in 9.6 seconds and threw the shot-put over 56 feet, breaking the state records for both. In the summer of 1955, Cannon was given a 90 day suspended sentence for theft, after he and some friends were caught roughing-up men they saw entering hotels with prostitutes. This was the first in a series of legal troubles that plagued Cannon throughout his life.
Despite his discipline issues, Cannon was heavily recruited out of high school. His top options were Florida, LSU, and Ole Miss. He ultimately decided on LSU when he was promised a job between semesters at a local car dealership, something that wasn't guaranteed if he attended college elsewhere. His mother Vergie also played a role in him choosing the Tigers, persuading him to stay close to home. "Mommy was older and wiser, and I followed her advice," said Cannon.
Cannon began his LSU football career as a sophomore in the 1957 season under coach Paul Dietzel. He played halfback and shared the backfield with All-American Jim Taylor. He also played defensive back and was the team's primary punter. He quickly emerged as a star, as he scored twice in early season victories over both Alabama and Texas Tech. The Alabama game ended up being the most prolific rushing game of Cannon's college career, as he amassed 140 yards on only eight carries. In the game against the Red Raiders Cannon had five punts for a 40-yard average, went two-for-four passing for 31 yards, caught a 59-yard pass for a touchdown, had 36 yards rushing on thirteen carries, and returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Cannon recalled that Texas Tech’s focus was solely on Taylor. “They were just wearing Jimmy out,” he said. “Of course, they weren’t looking for me. They just beat the devil out of Jimmy. With them focusing on Jimmy, I had a great game.” Over a half-century later, former Red Raiders standout Jack Henry recalled of Cannon:
"We kicked off. And that damn Billy Cannon. Jim Henderson and I were running down in our lanes and got down there, and we were going to hit him high and low. We were going to knock the hell out of him—we hit ourselves. Ran into each other. He made a 100-yard touchdown. You don't forget that."
The Tigers won their next two before dropping four straight, but were competitive in every game, largely due to the play of Cannon and Taylor. LSU completed the season with a win over rival Tulane and a 5–5 record after being picked to finish last in the conference. At the end of the season Cannon was named to the AP Southeastern Conference All-sophomore team and earned second-team All-SEC honors from the UPI. He also led the country with a 31.2 yard kickoff return average.
In 1958, coach Dietzel implemented his "three-platoon system," which split the team into the "Go Team," the "White Team," and the "Chinese Bandits" The White Team made up the starting unit for the Tigers and was led by Cannon. It consisted of the team's most talented players who excelled on both offense and defense. With Jim Taylor graduating, Dietzel intended to utilize Cannon by giving him as much playing time as possible. LSU entered the season with talent and depth on both sides of the ball, and it showed as the team defeated their first five opponents by an average of three touchdowns. The sixth game of the season was against Florida for the Tigers' homecoming. Cannon led the team to a 10–7 victory as he scored their only touchdown of the game in the second quarter. The following week, the Tigers found themselves ranked at the top of the AP Poll. They remained there as they finished the regular season undefeated and were crowned national champions by the AP and UPI. LSU followed up with a 7–0 victory over Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. Cannon was responsible for all seven points scored in the game, as he threw a touchdown pass to Mickey Mangham and then kicked the extra point.
After the season, Cannon was named a unanimous All-American. He was also awarded Player of the Year honors by United Press International, The Sporting News, and the Touchdown Club of Columbus. In addition, he was voted to the All-SEC team and was deemed SEC Most Valuable Player by the Nashville Banner after leading the conference in rushing yards, average, and touchdowns. Cannon finished third in voting for the Heisman Trophy, behind winner, Pete Dawkins of Army, and runner-up, Randy Duncan of Iowa. "It's a wonderful thing," Dietzel said of Cannon's accolades. "Billy Cannon is the finest football player I've ever coached."
With Cannon and most defensive starters returning, LSU was expected to compete for another title in 1959. The Tigers began the season as the top ranked team, and season-ticket holders tripled from the previous season. It began as expected, with the team winning their first six games without allowing a touchdown. Cannon showed his versatility in those games, as he led the team in total yards on offense, returned an interception for a touchdown on defense, and averaged 40 yards per punt while also returning punts and kickoffs. This set up a highly anticipated match-up between LSU and rival Ole Miss, also undefeated.
|Cannon's punt return, YouTube video. The return begins at 1:15 of the video.|
On Halloween night, Cannon led top-ranked LSU into Tiger Stadium to face third-ranked Ole Miss. It was a defensive struggle, as neither team's offense managed to reach the endzone. Late in the fourth quarter, the Tigers were trailing 3–0 when Cannon returned a punt 89 yards for a touchdown, breaking seven tackles and running the last 60 yards untouched. The Rebels mounted one last drive and managed to reach the Tigers' 1-yard line before being stopped on fourth down. The game-saving tackle was made by Cannon and Warren Rabb with 18 seconds on the clock to secure the 7–3 victory. After the game, Cannon lay down in the tunnel, exhausted, unable to make it to the locker room. LSU's chances as repeat national champions effectively ended the next week with a 13–14 loss to Tennessee after a failed two-point conversion attempt by Cannon. The Tigers finished the season with a rematch against Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl, in which they were defeated 21–0.
Cannon was awarded the Heisman Trophy as the nation's most outstanding player in 1959. His offensive statistics were down compared to the previous season, and he scored only six touchdowns total on the year. However, his performance on Halloween night and his defensive play throughout the season was enough to convince voters. "The thing that clinched the Heisman for me was that I made a play or two in a big game," he later reminisced. He received the award from then-Vice President Richard Nixon during a ceremony on December 9 at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City. Cannon was the second player from the SEC to win the trophy, following Georgia's Frank Sinkwich in 1942. He did so in a landslide, receiving over five times as many first-place votes as the runner-up. Cannon also repeated on nearly every award he won the previous season, including All-America honors. Shortly after the 1959 season, the LSU football team retired Cannon's number 20 jersey. It was the only jersey retired by the team until fifty years later, when Tommy Casanova's jersey became the second in 2009.
In November of 1959, Cannon signed a contract with Los Angeles Rams general manager Pete Rozelle, in which he agreed to play for the Rams in the National Football League. The contract was for three years for $30,000, plus a $10,000 thousand signing bonus. Two months later, on the field after LSU's Sugar Bowl loss, Cannon signed another contract. This one was was with the American Football League's Houston Oilers, whose owner Bud Adams offered Cannon $33,000 a year for three years with a $10,000 signing bonus. When word got out that he had signed with two different teams, the Rams filed a suit claiming Cannon was bound by their contract and could not sign with Houston. Judge William Lindberg ruled against the Rams, stating that Rozelle had taken advantage of Cannon's naivety. The AFL's victory against the established NFL helped bring legitimacy to the fledgling league. After the ruling Cannon finalized his contract to play professional football in the AFL for the Oilers. The contract made him the first $100,000 professional football player.
Cannon joined the newly-formed Oilers under head coach Lou Rymkus. Due to being one of the highest-paid players in professional football, he was heckled early on by opposing players. He also did not get along well with Rymkus, described by Cannon as "unpleasant, confrontational, with a nasty disposition and an oversized ego." Nevertheless, Cannon had a productive rookie year. He led the team in rushing with 644 yards and also caught five touchdown passes. His 88-yard touchdown reception from quarterback George Blanda in the 1960 AFL Championship game helped the Oilers become the inaugural AFL Champions, and he was named the game's most valuable player.
The 1961 season started poorly for the Oilers, and Rymkus was fired. Houston then won ten consecutive games with Wally Lemm as head coach. In one of those games, against the New York Titans, Cannon set an AFL record with 373 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns. He finished the season as the AFL's leading rusher with 948 yards and led the league in all-purpose yards. The Oilers once again won the AFL Championship and Cannon again was the game's MVP, as he scored the only touchdown. The Sporting News named him to the 1961 AFL All-League Team and he was invited to play in the 1961 AFL All-Star Game.
Cannon injured his back in the third game of the 1962 season, and his production dropped. He still finished second on the team in scoring behind Blanda. The Oilers made it to the championship game a third time, but lost to the Dallas Texans in the first ever double-overtime game in pro football history. New leg injuries and lingering back problems caused Cannon to sit out much of the 1963 season. This, coupled with the Oilers' release of Lemm, led Cannon to request being cut by the team. His request was granted. "I left the team with good feelings and a lot of good friends," Cannon recalled. "It was just time to go."
Cannon was traded to the Oakland Raiders before the 1964 season. Raiders head coach Al Davis liked Cannon's abilites but did not know how he wanted to use him. At first Davis moved Cannon to fullback. At fullback he was an asset in catching passes, an attribute not all fullbacks possessed at the time. It took some games for him to learn the position and his season got off to a slow start. For the season, he caught 37 passes for 454 yards and eight touchdowns. He also rushed for three more touchdowns. The next season Davis moved him to tight end, to the chagrin of Cannon. He expected to be made into a wide receiver, but the Raiders were set at the position with Art Powell and rookie Fred Biletnikoff. He eventually accepted his role and adapted to the new position quickly. However, the tight end was seldom used in the Raiders' offense. He caught only seven passes that season with no touchdowns. Before the 1966 season, John Rauch took over as head coach as Al Davis became AFL commissioner and the Raiders general manager. Cannon established himself as a deep threat in Rauch's offense and caught fourteen passes for 436 yards, an average of 31.4 yards per reception.
Cannon had fully bought-in to the Raiders organization and game-plan by 1967, and believed a championship was near for the team. He convinced Davis to sign Blanda as a placekicker and a mentor for quarterback Daryle Lamonica. That year, Cannon led all AFL tight ends with 629 yards receiving and ten touchdowns in his best season at the position. For the second time in his career he was an All-AFL selection. His efforts helped the Raiders get to the 1967 AFL Championship game against the Oilers, for a 40–7 victory over his former team. Because of a new agreement between the two leagues, the Raiders earned a place in the second AFL-NFL World Championship game in which they faced the Green Bay Packers. Early in the fourth quarter, Cannon dropped a pass while wide-open on a play in which he would have scored. He later described it as "the clumsiest drop of my career." Green Bay won the game, 33–14.
Cannon had a modest 1968 season in which he caught six touchdown passes, but Cannon knew he would not be in Oakland much longer. Head coach John Madden had relegated him to running decoy routes by 1969 and he had only two touchdowns. Nevertheless, he was invited as a replacement to play in his second All-Star game. Cannon was released by the Raiders after the season.
Kansas City Chiefs and retirement
As he was preparing to begin post-graduate studies in orthodontics at Loyola University in Chicago, Cannon received a call from Kansas City Chiefs head coach Hank Stram. Stram signed Cannon to a one year contract and he played in six games for the Chiefs in 1970, catching two touchdowns before a season-ending injury convinced him to quit playing for good. He ended his eleven-year professional career with 2,455 yards rushing, 3,656 receiving yards, and 64 touchdowns on offense. He also threw one touchdown pass and returned a kickoff for a touchdown.
Personal and later life
Cannon married his high school sweetheart, Dot Dupuy, while they were both freshmen at LSU. They have five children together. His son, Billy Cannon, Jr., played linebacker for Texas A&M and was selected in the first round of the 1984 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. Cannon graduated from LSU in 1959 and completed post-graduate studies at the University of Tennessee during the off-season while with the Oilers. There, he earned a D.D.S. and later earned additional degrees in orthodontia from Loyola University Chicago. After retiring from football, he returned to Baton Rouge and started his own dental practice.
Despite a successful practice, by 1983 he was in financial difficulties from bad real estate investments and gambling debts. He became involved in a counterfeiting scheme and had printed $6 million in U.S. 100-dollar bills, some of which he stored in ice chests buried in the backyard of one of the houses he owned and rented out. He served 2½ years of a five-year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution, Texarkana. Upon his release in 1986, he regained his dentistry license but struggled to rebuild his practice. In 1990, Cannon was an honorary pallbearer at the funeral of former Teamsters Union business agent Edward Grady Partin, whose testimony in 1964 had sent Jimmy Hoffa to prison for jury tampering. In 1995, he was hired as a dentist at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, initially as a contractor. At the time, the dental clinic in the prison was in chaos, with many dentists refusing to work and inmates often being unable to make appointments. Cannon immediately set to reorganizing the dental program with great success and was soon hired as a full-time employee. Warden Burl Cain, impressed with Cannon's work with the dental program, later put him in charge of the prison's entire medical system. Cannon remains the resident dentist at the penitentiary, where inmates typically call him "Legend".
Cannon currently resides in St. Francisville, Louisiana with his wife Dot. On February 19, 2013, Cannon was hospitalized in intensive care in Baton Rouge after suffering a stroke. He was released two days later, returned to work the following Monday and made a full recovery.
Cannon remains a beloved and iconic figure in Louisiana sports, despite his legal troubles. During a homecoming game for LSU in 2003, he was honored by the university as he stood on the field between the first and second quarters. Fans gave a long standing ovation and players raised their helmets in salute, leading athletic director Skip Bertman to proclaim to a friend, "He's still the icon, isn't he?" His punt return on Halloween night in 1959 is still played on the big screen in Tiger Stadium before every home game. Cannon's number 20 jersey remains one of only two jerseys retired by LSU football. In 1975, he was inducted into the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame, followed by the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame the next year. He had originally been elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983, but the Hall rescinded the honor before his induction due to his confessed involvement in the counterfeiting scheme. The Hall elected him a second time in 2008, and he was formally inducted during a ceremony on December 9 of that year.
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- Martinez, Harry (September 29, 1957). "LSU Explodes, 28-0". The Times-Picayune. p. 105.
- Dellenger, Ross. "‘That damn Billy Cannon’ tortured Texas Tech in 1957, the last time these 2 Texas Bowl teams met". The Advocate. The Advocate. Retrieved January 6, 2016.
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- "Billy Cannon Heisman Bio". Heisman.com. Retrieved January 11, 2016.
- Lang III, Roy (December 12, 2015). "Billy Cannon gives ‘middle finger’ to Heisman voters". Shreveport Times. Retrieved January 11, 2016.
- Higgins, Ron (September 22, 2015). "LSU football legend Billy Cannon firmly aboard Leonard Fournette's Heisman bandwagon". NOLA.com. Retrieved January 11, 2016.
- Keefe, Bill (December 11, 1959). "Cannon's Stamina Tested". The Times-Picayune. p. 7.
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- deGravelles 2015, pp. 183-189.
- "Saga of Cannon: A hero stumbles". The Times-Picayune. July 14, 1983. p. 4.
- "An utter disaster. (former football star Billy Cannon)". April 2, 2008. Retrieved January 17, 2016.
- "Obituaries: Barlow and Related Families". Baton Rouge State Times, March 12, 1990, p. 6-A. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
- deGravelles 2015, pp. 205-207.
- deGravelles 2015, p. xi.
- Samuels, Diana (February 19, 2013). "Billy Cannon's family confirms LSU football star had stroke". NOLA.com. Retrieved January 11, 2016.
- Kleinpeter, Jim (February 21, 2013). "Former LSU great Billy Cannon released from hospital Thursday". NOLA.com. Retrieved January 11, 2016.
- Kleinpeter, Jim (April 16, 2013). "Dr. Billy Cannon bounces back quickly after February stroke". NOLA.com. Retrieved January 11, 2016.
- LSU Sports Interactive (October 29, 2009). "Tiger Great Billy Cannon Elected to College Football Hall of Fame". LSUsports.net. Retrieved January 8, 2016.
- Vincent, Herb (2008). LSU Football Vault: The History of the Fighting Tigers. Whitman Publishing, LLC. ISBN 0794824285.
- deGravelles, Charles (2015). Billy Cannon: A Long, Long Run. Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 978-0-8071-6220-0.
- Blevins, Dave (August 31, 2012). College Football Awards: All National and Conference Winners Through 2010. McFarland. ISBN 0786448679.
- Billy Cannon at the College Football Hall of Fame
- Billy Cannon at the Heisman Trophy official website
- Career statistics and player information from Pro-Football-Reference • Databasefootball.com
|American Football League Rushing Leader
1961 (14 games)
948 yds, 4.7 yds/att