When two-platoon football went out in 1953, however, the Bandits were forgotten—until this year. Now they are the darlings of the South.
A Memphis disc jockey named Fred Huddleston has written a song about them which the LSU band plays whenever the Bandits go on the field. A Baton Rouge elementary schoolroom voted to change its class name to the Chinese Bandits. Jack Sabin, who runs the Goalpost Restaurant on the edge of the LSU campus, drove down to New Orleans one day, picked up 1,400 Chinese coolie hats and gave them away with meals. They were all gone by nightfall. Last week, just before the Duke game, a member of the LSU freshman team walked up to Dietzel one afternoon and said: "Coach, if it's all the same with you, I'd just as soon not play on the first string next year. I'd kinda like to be one of the Bandits." And when one of the Bandits actually was promoted to the starting unit to replace a guard hobbled by injury, he gave Dietzel an indignant stare and said: "O.K., but as soon as possible I want to get back to the Bandits."
With such esprit de corps, it is hardly surprising that the entire squad has been affected. The White team and the Go team are almost as proud of the Bandits as the Bandits are of themselves.
Despite the wonderful team spirit, however, despite the blossoming coaching excellence of the 34-year-old Dietzel, despite the solid performances of Rabb, Fugler and the rest, everyone knows that LSU has escaped mediocrity once again only because of the presence of Billy Cannon. Blessed with a magnificent physique, tremendous speed and an apparently bottomless supply of gutty determination, LSU's bowlegged left halfback may be the best college football player in America.
Standing 6 feet 1 inch in height and weighing a rock-hard 204 pounds, Billy can run 100 yards in 9.5 seconds, a feat which he accomplished twice last spring in his spare time away from football practice. He is also as strong as a young bull.
A good-looking, likable boy with crew-cut brown hair and friendly hazel eyes, Billy grew up just outside Tiger Stadium's north gate and used to sell peanuts and cold drinks in the big concrete stands when he was a kid. He always wanted to play football there himself, but for a while it appeared he would end up playing instead in the LSU band. Unable to make the Istrouma Junior High team because he was so small that no one could find shoes to fit him, he reluctantly took trombone lessons—but, just in case, he kept on playing football with the neighborhood kids. By the time Billy finished high school LSU was more than happy to let him play anywhere he wanted, just so he didn't go away. Grown up to 195 pounds, Cannon scored 229 points his senior year in high school, became an All-State and All-America schoolboy player, led Istrouma to a state championship and was a record-setting dashman as well.
A good student, Billy could have gone to any one of 50 colleges, but LSU was the logical choice. His older brother, Harvey, played football for the Tigers until an injury stopped him, and Billy's father has been an employee of the university, a custodian in the dormitories, since an industrial-plant injury years ago forced him to give up heavy work.
Cannon's 1956 freshman team included Rabb and Robinson and Fugler and was perhaps the best in the school's history. They bowled over everything in sight, and LSU supporters could hardly wait for the 1957 season when they would come up to the varsity as sophomores. When 1957 finally arrived, however, it was slightly disconcerting to Tiger fans to discover that sophomores, even such gifted ones as these, usually manage to play like sophomores. Billy averaged 5½ yards a carry, gaining 583 yards from scrimmage, and led the conference in kickoff returns, but he is the first to admit that there was an awful lot he needed to learn about playing football.
"I made," he grins now, "quite a few mistakes."
WHEN THE CHIPS ARE DOWN