My Elite Network: Why did you decide to attend LSU?
Billy Cannon: Well, when you’re raised in Baton Rouge and you would go see these guys play, it wasn’t hard for me to decide where to go. They brought some great players into Tiger Stadium when I was younger, and as a kid, I would go watch them play. From that first game, I was hooked. My dad made it very plain that; if I wanted to go to LSU go, but don’t go there just because he worked at LSU.
My Elite Network: How was it playing with Jimmy Taylor?
Billy Cannon: Jimmy was great, a super competitive football player and a nice guy. I’ll never forget that he had led the conference in rushing. He is a great man, a dear friend.
My Elite Network: Any special memories from the 1968 National Championship Team?
Billy Cannon: About a thousand memories. We had a great time. Each game has a story, just tremendous fun. I think what sticks in everybody’s mind is that we were undefeated and ended up beating Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. So, it was a lot of fun. We had no Indians only Chiefs on our team. But, all the Chiefs pulled together to do their part. And we had outstanding play across the board. Everybody on the team had an outstanding play or two.
My Elite Network: Tell us about “The Run.”
Billy Cannon: Well, when you’re behind and you’re running out of time, you take chances.
On a punt, there was a great bounce on the ball. One of the rules back then was you can’t catch the ball behind 15-yard line, well I did. I wanted to go left, but there was Larry Grantham, a guy who I played with in the high school All-American game and throughout my career. I didn’t know Larry was such a great tackler. I dodged him and just ran away from all the red and blue jerseys. I broke through the final tackle and made the touchdown.
My Elite Network: Do you recall when you were awarded the Heisman Trophy?
Billy Cannon: Yes, I do. It was fantastic, my mother, dad, and wife went to New York City for the Ceremony. We all enjoyed it so much. I would have taken my brother with me, but he was in the military at the time and couldn’t come. President Nixon awarded me the Heisman, he was so nice to my parents. It was just a very special night.
My Elite Network: Where is your Heisman Trophy, is at your home?
Billy Cannon: Oh no. For the past 50 years, it’s been at T.J. Ribs in Baton Rouge. I was friends with T.J. After T.J. passed his son, Burke, took over the restaurant. My wife and I had watched Burke grow up. So, it just seemed right that he kept the Heisman. He did ask me how long he could keep it on display, I told him until I died, what my family does with it after I die is up to them. It’s a family connection. My teammates bring people to T.J. Ribs to eat – they get great ribs and they get to see our trophy.
My Elite Network: Do you have you have a favorite memory from playing with the Oilers?
Billy Cannon: During my time with the Oilers, we had five head coaches and eleven players. Eleven went on the bus to the game and eleven came on the bus home. We had a bunch of kids that were unknown, unheard of. But they were all excellent athletes.
My Elite Network: Memories of Al Davis?
Billy Cannon: All good memories. After being in Houston for four years with five different coaches, I finally had a coach that knew what he was doing and where he was going. Al was great. Al knew how to get the players, and he knew how to get them to play. Unfortunately, not good enough to beat Green Bay in the Super Bowl, but good enough to win a lot of games. He did cut me, and I went to Kansas City where I played my last year. If he had cut me before the season had started, I would have quit then. But because I was in good shape, I decided to play another year.
My Elite Network: What do you hope people remember about your playing career?
Billy Cannon: I was ready to go to the dance. I had given the game everything I had. So, all the grieving after a game and saying how terrible you feel for losing a game, it makes me mad. Because if you have given more of yourself during the game, maybe you could have, should have won. I hope I am remembered as the guy that gave it his all. The guy who played the whole game. The guy who never gave up.
My Elite Network: What do you think about Coach Saban and his coaching strategies?
Billy Cannon: You know it’s very seldom that a successful coach changes his philosophy. I don’t know if he changed it after going over the Clemson game film, or if his new coordinator had a part of it. Anyway, this year he has been running up points and all the media is blasting him. But people need to realize that when Saban substitutes, he substitutes not one or two players like he used to do, now he puts the second team in as a group and they work together. Then, he’ll put his third team in and they’ll work together as a group. The game I was watching recently, one of the guys scores a touchdown in the fourth quarter. They were already up by a lot, the score was 66 points or something like that, the player makes it to the end zone and the entire team runs out to him to celebrate. He was their number seven running back and he just scored his first touchdown as a senior. If you think about what Coach Saban is doing, it makes sense. If a player goes down or gets hurt, Coach Saban can bring in a player that may have 100 plays in them. He gives all the players play time so when they do go in, they have experience. Watching a change in philosophy overnight is fun. Some might think he is running up the score, but how do you put these kids in who are fighting for play time and tell them not to score? That’s why he wins. He’s a smart man.
My Elite Network: What keeps you motivated?
Billy Cannon: The sunshine. I’ve had so many peaks and so many valleys throughout my life. I’m just grateful for each day. Looking back, it has been a good life. But to redo or relive the past, I don’t want to do that – I enjoy the memories. But to redo them or attempt to redo them – I’ll pass. But, one thing I would have done is to have more children, I would have seven or eight more. My wife would hate me for that, but I have enjoyed my family.
My Elite Network: So, what are you doing now?
Billy Cannon: For the last 22 years I’ve been the Dental Director at Louisiana State Penitentiary. It was in a terrible condition when I got here. Now it’s an excellent part of the system and the inmates have benefited the from it. I have enjoyed working here and helping others. I think that is a good legacy.
Author: Celi Leggett
Recently retired from a successful 25 year career in education/administration, Celi Leggett, is known as an amateur photographer being featured in several Mississippi Cookbooks and Colorado College sports publications. Her eye for detail and personal relationship skills bring a sense of thoughtfulness to her writing.