PLAYER OF THE DECADE
HONORS: HEISMAN TROPHY (1959), WALTER CAMP TROPHY ('59);
ALL-AMERICA ('58, '59), SEC MVP ('58, '59), ALL-SEC ('58, '59)
BILLY CANNON USES ONE WORD TO describe his playing style: reckless. Looking back on his career almost 50 years later, the Heisman Trophy-winning LSU halfback remembers running through would-be tacklers, always trying to break a long one. Teammate Scooter Purvis recalls a levelheaded team player who was just bigger and faster than everyone else. Cannon stood 6'1", weighed 210, put the shot and threw the discus and was the 1958 SEC champion in the 100-yard dash. That same year he helped LSU to the national championship and its first undefeated season in 50 years.
The Baton Rouge native was already a celebrity before he arrived on campus, having led his high school team to the '55 state championship. At LSU the two-time All-America gained 1,867 yards but would have been more successful, says teammate Johnny Robinson, if the Tigers had used him as a true tailback.
Like most talented players of his era, Cannon did more than just carry the ball. "When you came off the field, it was to get a Coke at halftime and a shower to go home," says Cannon. During LSU's '58 Sugar Bowl win over Clemson he threw for the Tigers' lone touchdown, then kicked the extra point. But his most memorable play came on Halloween night in '59 against Ole Miss, when Cannon returned a punt 89 yards in the fourth quarter to give LSU a 7-3 victory.
"He just ran through Ole Miss," recalls Tigers coach Paul Dietzel, who at the Heisman presentation that year called Cannon the best player he had ever seen. The impression hasn't dimmed since then. "When the game was on the line," says Dietzel, "you wanted Billy in there."
TEAM OF THE DECADE
UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE
COACHES: ROBERT NEYLAND, HARVEY ROBINSON, BOWDEN WYATT;
OVERALL RECORD: 72-31-4;
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS: 1 (1951);
SEC TITLES: 2 (1951, '56)