Breaking News
More () »

LSU football legend Billy Cannon dies at 80

Billy Cannon, the LSU football legend and only Heisman Trophy winner, died in his home early Sunday, the university announced. He was 80.

Billy Cannon, the LSU football legend and the school's only Heisman Trophy winner, died early Sunday, the university announced. He was 80.

"The entire family mourns with the Cannons and his loved ones. He will never be forgotten. #20," LSU Football wrote on Twitter, referencing his number, which was retired by the school in 1960.

Cannon was the winner of the 1959 Heisman Trophy as a halfback and led the Tigers to the 1958 national championship. His punt return against Ole Miss on Halloween night in 1959 is considered by LSU fans and sportswriters to be one of the most famous plays in LSU sports history. Though the game was not televised, replays of the "Halloween Run" continued for decades on Halloween night television sportscasts throughout Louisiana.

With about 10 minutes to play, Cannon rebelliously grabbed a bouncing punt on a muddy field at his 11-yard line, ignoring Coach Paul Dietzel's rule prohibiting such devilish deeds inside the 15. He proceeded to break the tackles of five seemingly ghostly Rebels on his way to an 89-yard touchdown and 7-3 victory for the defending national champion Tigers, who stood 7-0 on the season with their 19th straight victory.

Cannon was selected as the first pick in both the NFL and AFL drafts the following year, which led to a court dispute. He led the Oilers to AFL titles in 1960 and 1961 before moving on in 1964 to the Oakland Raiders, where he switched to tight end and played in Super Bowl II in the 1967 season. He retired after the 1970 season with Kansas City.

He was inducted into the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame in 1975 and into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008. He was named LSU Alumnus of the Year in 2010.

Born in Philadelphia, Miss., but raised in Baton Rouge, Cannon wrote in a 2015 memoir that he was the epitome of a 1950s teen rebel from the blue collar side of town. "Yeah, James Dean with a slow car," Cannon wrote. While attending Istrouma High School, Cannon excelled in football, basketball and track. He led the school's football team to the state championship before being recruited by LSU.

Cannon became a dentist after retiring from football. In 1983, after a series of bad real estate investments, he became involved in a counterfeiting scheme and served two and a half years in prison.

"If you are asking me why I did this? I still don't know why. What I did was wrong, terribly wrong," Cannon is quoted in his book as having said in court at the time,

"It was hell, pure hell," his youngest child Bunnie Cannon, who is executive director of institutional advancement and fundraising at the LSU president's office, says in the book. "All those deals, and there was lots of drinking that went with each one. I don't think he was making the best decisions."

Cannon began his jail term at the low security Federal Correctional Institution in Texarkana, Texas, in September of 1983 just as his son Billy Cannon Jr., a highly recruited football star out of Broadmoor High in Baton Rouge, was beginning his senior season at Texas A&M. In the summer of 1986, Cannon was free after having his five-year sentence reduced to less than three years on good behavior.

In 1995, he was hired as a dentist at Louisiana State Penitentiary. During the job interview, Cannon wrote that Angola warden Burl Cain told him, "I hear you've got a lot of experience. Which side of the razor wire do you want it on?"

He was frank about his experiences in the memoir released in 2015 and titled, "A Long, Long Run." "I wanted it told with no cover-up, with no sugarcoating" Cannon said in an interview. "Just tell it as it was."

"What I've done is what I've done, and it's there," Cannon said. "I wanted young people to read the book – young men - because there are going to be temptations and trials, and you're going to have problems making decisions. My hope is that when they read the book, they will take the high road."

Before You Leave, Check This Out