BATON ROUGE -- LSU’s legendary halfback Billy Cannon, the winner of the 1959 Heisman Trophy, was inducted into the prestigious College Football Hall of Fame amidst pomp and pageantry in the Grand Ballroom of the historic Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City Tuesday night.
Surrounded by hundreds of former college greats as well as current and past college coaches plus personalities from the worlds of politics, television and entertainment, Cannon was inducted along with 12 other former college gridiron greats and two coaching legends. He was the first LSU player inducted into the Hall since Tommy Casanova, who was in attendance Tuesday night, was honored in 1995.
Cannon was joined at the event by his wife, Dot, and their daughter Bunnie. The Tuesday night dinner was the culmination of two days of events that included a reception hosted by the Southeastern Conference on Monday night for the SEC’s three inductees and a reception in Cannon’s honor hosted by LSU on Tuesday prior to the dinner.
Other inductees were 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 were 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 LSU 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).
NFF Correspondent Bo Carter captured the following quotes:
"The College Football Hall of Fame is a great honor," said Troy Aikman. "Playing two years at Oklahoma, then going to UCLA and playing for a great coach like Terry Donahue, I have been honored with many great teammates and coaches on all levels for many years.
"Gentlemen, if you're seated on this dais today be thankful that you haven't been elected to the College Hall of Fame twice like me," said Billy Cannon. "This is a tremendous honor, and so many people who played with our teams or coached me are no longer around. I wish they could be here to share this."
"This again is a tremendous honor," said Jim Dombrowski. "It's recognition for a lot of hard work, and we weren't a very good program, but we did accomplish a great deal while we played for coach George Welsh at Virginia. We had a lot of people who put in many hours of hard work to get the program going again, and it's gratifying to be going into the Hal of Fame."
"I'm honored to be here," said Pat Fitzgerald. "To be representing Northwestern as a player as well as being head coach is an honor. The relationships with people and the opportunity to play football on teams that went 15-1 in the Big Ten Conference over two years was something special. We played some outstanding teams and couldn't have done it without a concerted effort."
"I would like to thank you for letting me be part of this," said Wilber Marshall. "I lost my voice today, but I am so thankful to make this group on behalf of my teammates and coaches. We had some great teams at Florida and were part of getting that great tradition going again. These gentlemen on the podium with me today represent all the great things about college football."
"When I think of this gathering today, I am very humbled," said Rueben Mayes. "I actually came from a different country (Canada) and was graciously accepted by all the people at Washington State. When I speak to young people today, I tell them to reach for the stars. Anything is possible with enough hard work and help from your coaches and teammates. Thank you for sharing this with me today."
"I want to thank Arizona State for the opportunity to be recruited and play for ASU," said Randall McDaniel. "It was great to go on to a NFL career, but the seeds that were planted in college have stayed with me for a lifetime. This is an honor that I cherish for years to come."
"I am very thankful when I think of the days that I played at Syracuse, when I laughed with my teammates and cried with them and celebrated many good times," said Don McPherson. "My college head coach Dick MacPherson is here today, and he was a great influence as well as my parents who are in attendance. I really feel like I should have my teammates up here today with me because they were so much a part of my career and success. It's events like this and young people like Florida quarterback Tim Tebow who bring out all the best parts of college athletics. This is part of that celebration as well."
"First of all, congratulations to everybody who is being honored today," said Jay Novaceck. "I am very blessed to receive this honor as a skinny tight end on a Wishbone offense team. We always consider Wyoming the Harvard of the West, and I did receive a good education and was able to compete in track (as a nationally-ranked decathlete). It's really great honor to be going into the College Hall of Fame with my (NFL) Dallas teammate Troy Aikman."
"I look around and know these guys and watched them play," said Dave Parks. "It's a thrill to be here, and I'm wondering what I am doing here with these guys. We finally had one .500 (5-5) team at Texas Tech and helped the school join the Southwest Conference in the 1960s. In 10 years in the NFL, I think I played on one .500-plus team, so I really feel fortunate to be honored. I have developed many lasting friendships through football and Texas Tech."
"It really hasn't sunk in yet," said Ron Simmons. "This is a tremendous privilege and honor. I was recruited hard by all the Georgia schools and grew up in South Georgia, and they all told me I was going to an all-girls' school without much tradition at Florida State. We proved a lot of people wrong, and it was a fantastic experience playing for coach Bobby Bowden."
"It is interesting that I am at a podium with Troy Aikman receiving an award," said Thurman Thomas. "We finished high school at the same time and played against one another at Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. I also met my wife 20 years ago today, and my parents are here, so this is a very special day. We are fortunate to have competed for great programs and to have played with many good teammates."
"Boy, I want to thank you all for this honor," said Arnold Tucker. "The one experience I often relate from my playing days at Army actually came from off the field. We traveled in the official U.S. Army personnel buses, and, invariably, some young boy would see me get off the team transport and say, 'Daddy, there's a baldheaded one on that team.' We did not realize at the time the number of combat troops who got a touch of home by following the Army (USMA) games on radio and in the newsreels, and we were glad to have an impact on morale."
"In our profession as a coach, this is greatest honor you can have," said Coach John Cooper. "I was a college coach for 39 years and a college head coach for 24 years. I bounced around to several schools and have been married for 52 years. So, I want to thank my family for being so patient and loving for me. I also want to thank the head coaches and athletic directors who gave me the chance to coach for them and to Clay Stapleton (then-Iowa State head coach) for recruiting a young man out of East Tennessee to play in the old Big Seven Conference."
"When I heard I was going into the Hall of Fame, I wondered if I was going in as a player or a head coach," said Coach Lou Holtz. "I knew I wasn't going to be the first third-teamer ever elected to the Hall of Fame. I think about my family and teammates and coaches - the people who are with you when you get knocked down and then try to get back up; the ones who you eat with and sleep with... You can't fool the players. You just do everything you can to make them successful, and I just hope I had an impact on the lives of some of the people I coached."
"In this football environment today, I feel a little like costume jewelry in Tiffany's," said U.S. Senator John Glenn. "The T-formation wasn't even invented when I played at Muskingum. We ran the single wing and the double wing, ran off tackle, up the middle, and sweeps. Those were about the only plays we had, and we didn't think of passing the ball. I am honored to be here with this distinguished group... When I played center, I always lined up with my head down and got hit in the back of the head on every play. It taught me a lot about perseverance and hitting a moving target with the ball on the single wing snap."
"I played high school basketball in Texas," said T. Boone Pickens. "And I had one scholarship offer from Texas A&M. Actually, I played in the state high school basketball championship against San Antonio Jefferson HS and a young fellow named Kyle Rote (an 1964 inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame from SMU). After I got cut from the basketball team at A&M (I weighed 135 pounds as a freshman), I was fortunate to transfer to Oklahoma State (then Oklahoma A&M) and get a great education. I have emphasized to OSU administrators to run a clean program, or they will be missing the support of a key supporter. Oklahoma State is very fortunate to have a key administrator like (AD) Mike Holder and a great football coach like Mike Gundy."
The 2008 Hall of Fame inductees include Troy Aikman, UCLA, 1987-88; Billy Cannon, LSU, 1957-59; Jim Dombrowski, Virginia, 1982-85; Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern, 1993-96; Wilber Marshall, Florida, 1980- 83; Rueben Mayes, Washington State, 1982-85; Randall McDaniel, Arizona State, 1984-87; Don McPherson, Syracuse, 1984-87; Jay Novacek, Wyoming, 1982-84; Dave Parks, Texas Tech, 1961-63; Ron Simmons, Florida State, 1977-80; Thurman Thomas, Oklahoma State, 1984-87; Arnold Tucker, Army, 1944-46; and coaches John Cooper, 192-84-6 (.691), Tulsa (1977- 84), Arizona State (1985-87), Ohio State (1988-2000); and Lou Holtz, 249-132-7 (.651), William & Mary (1969-71), NC State (1972-75), Arkansas (1977-83), Minnesota (1984-85), Notre Dame (1986-96), South Carolina (1999-2004).
About The National Football Foundation
Founded in 1947 with leadership from General Douglas MacArthur, legendary Army coach Earl "Red" Blaik and immortal journalist Grantland Rice, The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame, a non-profit educational organization, runs programs designed to use the power of amateur football in developing scholarship, citizenship and athletic achievement in young people. With 121 chapters and 12,000 members nationwide, NFF programs include the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind., the NFF Hampshire Honor Society, the NFF National Scholar-Athlete Alumni Association, Play It Smart, and scholarships of over $1 million for college and high school scholar-athletes. The NFF presents the MacArthur Trophy, the Draddy Trophy, presented by HealthSouth, and releases the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) Standings.