BATON ROUGE -- LSU’s legendary halfback Billy Cannon, the winner of the 1959 Heisman Trophy who led the Tigers to the 1958 national championship, has been elected to the prestigious College Football Hall of Fame, it was announced Thursday.
Cannon will be inducted into the Hall of Fame along with 12 other former college gridiron greats and two coaching legends at the National Football Foundation’s Annual Awards Dinner in New York City at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on December 9. He will be the first LSU player inducted into the Hall since Tommy Casanova was honored in 1995.
“LSU has always been near and dear to my heart, and I know this will be a credit to the university and the football program,” Cannon said. “Playing on the first national championship team in 1958 and winning the Heisman Trophy in 1959 were great thrills, and I must remember all of my teammates, trainers and coaches who were there as well. No one person can do anything alone. It takes many, many people to win a national championship. I am grateful that I was able to play with those talented men.
“LSU has won two national championships recently and I hope I see them win many more. LSU is an incredible school academically and athletically. I am deeply honored to have been chosen and I am even prouder that I will always be an LSU Tiger.”
Other inductees include Troy Aikman of UCLA (1987-88), Jim Dombrowski of Virginia (1982-85), Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern (1994-96), Wilber Marshall of Florida (1980-83), Rueben Mayes of Washington State (1982-85), Randall McDaniel of Arizona State (1984-87), Don McPherson of Syracuse (1984-87), Jay Novacek of Wyoming (1982-84), Dave Parks of Texas Tech (1961-63), Ron Simmons of Florida State (1977-80), Thurman Thomas of Oklahoma State (1984-87) and Arnold Tucker of Army (1944-46).
Inductees in the coaches’ category will be John Cooper, who coached at Tulsa, Arizona State and Ohio State, and Lou Holtz, former coach at William & Mary, North Carolina State, Arkansas, Minnesota, Notre Dame and South Carolina.
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.
The Baton Rouge native 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.
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, the only football player in LSU history to have his jersey retired, 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.
Cannon joins five other former Tiger greats in the College Football Hall of Fame, Doc Fenton (1907-09), Abe Mickal (1933-35), Gaynell “Gus” Tinsley (1934-36), Ken Kavanaugh (1937-39), and Tommy Casanova (1969-71). Former LSU coaches who are in the Hall include Dana X. Bible (1916), Mike Donahue (1923-27), Biff Jones (1932-34), Bernie Moore (1935-47) and Charles McClendon (1962-79).