Apparently the year of experience was all that he needed, however, for no one has been able to catch LSU's No. 20 doing anything wrong since. Less spectacular than last year because of all the attention he receives from the opposition—every defense is keyed to stop him and two or three linebackers usually dog his every step—Billy has still managed to gain 512 yards in eight games. Only twice has he been able to get his hands on kickoffs—other teams now seem to have the word that there are better places on the field to kick a football than the spot occupied by Billy Cannon—and these he has run back 82 yards. He has caught passes and thrown them, done much of the punting and kicked extra points, defended magnificently and become a bone-crunching blocker. But it is when the Tigers need vital yardage, when things are getting tough, that Cannon is at his best. When LSU faces third down and six, everyone in the stadium knows who is going to get the ball.
"Billy's by far the best athlete I've ever coached," says Dietzel. "He's stronger, faster, tougher. He can do more things well. And he improves from week to week. Give him a step and he's gone. But if there's no room, he'll run over you. When he does it hurts.
"He's a tremendously intelligent boy—in some ways, he is really brilliant—and he has grown up. He's mature, and he knows what he wants out of life. He's a leader—this team is unusual in that respect; Fugler and Rabb and Robinson are leaders, too, and I think that explains our success as much as anything else. Billy Cannon is a great individual football player," says Dietzel, "but even more important, he's a great team man."
Cannon is certainly intelligent, and this goes far beyond his B average in a predental course. With a deceptive Deep South drawl, he is smart enough to talk about his blockers instead of about himself and to give all the credit for LSU's startling success to his teammates, his coaches and even to the howling mob of fans. And also, of course, to his wife and family, without whose help he would have had quite a bit more trouble living down a teen-age indiscretion involving a stolen bottle of whisky and the long arm of the Louisiana law. It is an incident which has been overpublicized both locally and nationally and really wouldn't have been so bad except that Billy Cannon was Billy Cannon—and he got caught. Billy had to check in with the probation officer for a month or so, and then everything was all right.
"I've always been sorry it happened," says Cannon. "But I guess all kids make mistakes. In one way, I guess it was good for me. I learned a lesson I'll never forget."
Typical of Billy, this too is an understatement. He has been a model student and citizen ever since. Married to his high school sweetheart, Dorothy Dupuy, in the summer of 1956, Billy is now the father of two little girls—Terri Lynn, who was born just before the '57 season, and Gina Leigh, who was born just before this one. The Cannons live in a house a few blocks from Istrouma High. The house is in Billy's name but actually, he says, "It belongs to my daddy and the mortgage company. Mostly the mortgage company."
With only Mississippi State this weekend and Tulane on November 22 separating LSU from its first perfect season in 50 years, the school and the city have gone football mad. Impromptu pep rallies wind their way across the lovely old campus almost every night, the flames of bonfires lighting up the yellow stucco walls and red tile roofs of the buildings and threatening the existence of the moss-hung oaks and cypresses which dot the grounds. Because United Press International placed the Tigers second to Iowa last week in its football poll (the Associated Press, perhaps in self-defense, had them No. 1), LSU students hanged the UPI in effigy. The enthusiasm even overflowed onto the practice field; Dietzel had to halt one workout while a cheering horde of students, accompanied by the band, paraded across the field and stopped to give a few cheers.
Baton Rouge has always been crazy about football, and last year, even with a team which lost half its games, LSU set a Southeastern Conference attendance record. This-season that record has been smashed to bits.
LSU has been playing its games at night for more than 20 years, and in Baton Rouge they do not consider this strange at all. In fact, it is almost a necessity. An industrial town, Baton Rouge operates on a three-shifts-a-day schedule, and night football enables workers from two shifts to see the games. "I didn't care much for it at first," says Dietzel. "Now I think it's great."
"For a while, it seemed a bit peculiar to me, too," says LSU's dynamic young athletic director, Jim Corbett. "Now I wouldn't have it any other way."