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Billy Cannon Statue Approved by Hall of Fame Committee

by Michael Bonnette (@LSUBonnette)
Billy Cannon Statue Approved by Hall of Fame Committee

BATON ROUGE, La. — The LSU Athletic Hall of Fame Committee has unanimously approved a proposal that a statue honoring football legend Dr. Billy Cannon be erected on campus.

Cannon, a Baton Rouge native and 1959 LSU graduate, was the winner of the 1959 Heisman Trophy as a halfback, and he led the Tigers to the 1958 national championship. He was inducted into the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame in 1975 and into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008.

“There is no player more synonymous with LSU football than Billy Cannon,” said Bill Demastes, LSU faculty athletics representative and Athletic Hall of Fame Committee Chair. “His ability on a football field made him a legend and the decision to honor him as such was unanimous.”

Cannon, who celebrated his 80th birthday Wednesday, was also named LSU Alumnus of the Year in 2010.

Cannon was a rare athlete, even by today’s standards, combining sprinter speed with brute strength. He could consistently run a 9.5 in the 100-yard dash and, at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, he had the size to overpower his opponents as well as outrun them.

He was an immediate standout as a sophomore in 1957, starring on both offense and defense for LSU. As a junior in 1958, he was the driving force behind the Tigers as they carved out a perfect season and claimed the national title that season. He passed for a touchdown and kicked the extra point in LSU’s 7-0 win over Clemson in the Sugar Bowl to earn MVP honors in that game.

“Billy is among the most heralded and identifiable college football players in NCAA history, and is largely responsible for the emergence of big-time football at LSU,” said vice chancellor and director of athletics Joe Alleva. “I also believe his commitment to rebuild and dedicate his life in service to his family, the community and the university he loves is admirable. He’s a very human hero and LSU’s most renowned.”

Cannon’s most memorable performance came in his senior season of 1959 against Ole Miss. Top-ranked LSU trailed the third-ranked Rebels 3-0 early in the fourth quarter when Cannon fielded a punt at the LSU 11 and broke seven tackles on his way to a winning touchdown, as the Tigers won 7-3. The run helped cement the Heisman Trophy for Cannon in 1959.

In his three-year career from 1957-59, Cannon rushed for 1,867 yards on 359 carries and scored 24 rushing touchdowns. He also caught 31 passes for 522 yards and two touchdowns. An all-purpose player who was also a defensive standout, Cannon returned 31 punts for 349 yards and 21 kickoffs for 616 yards in his career, punted 111 times for an average of 36.7 yards a punt and intercepted seven passes. He also completed 12 of 26 pass attempts for 121 yards.

Cannon, who had his LSU jersey No. 20 retired by the university in 1959, played 11 years in professional football, the first 10 in the American Football League, helping lead the Houston Oilers to the AFL title in 1961 and 1962.

Dr. Cannon earned his D.D.S. at the University of Tennessee and a master’s at Loyola University in Chicago. Today, he is the Director of Dentistry at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.

Dr. Cannon and his wife, Dorothy, reside in St. Francisville. They have five children, Terri, Gina, Billy Jr., Bunnie and Dara.

Funding for all statues is provided by private donations through Tiger Athletic Foundation. Details about the design and construction of the Billy Cannon statue will be announced in the coming months.