Former LSU and AFL star Billy Cannon passes away at 80


Billy Cannon photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Former LSU legend Billy Cannon, the first major rookie to sign with the American Football League and the subject of an historic court decision, died Sunday morning at his home.

He was 80.

Cannon was a star running back at LSU, where he led the Tigers to an undefeated season and a national championship in 1958 and where he won the Heisman Trophy a year later when he returned a punt 89 yards — breaking seven tackles en route to the “Halloween Run” — to beat No. 3 ranked Mississippi. He and teammate Warren Rabb later made a game-saving stop at the goal line with 18 seconds left to preserve the 7-3 win.

Twice an All-American, Cannon is the lone Heisman Trophy winner in LSU history. The school later retired his number 20 jersey.

Cannon was the first overall pick in the 1960 AFL draft as a territorial choice of the Houston Oilers. But he was the first overall pick of the NFL, too, with the Los Angles Rams choosing him, and that became a problem. Reason: He’d signed a three-year deal with the Rams before agreeing to a contract with Houston that made him the first $100,000 football player.

The Rams sued, claiming that Cannon was bound to their contract and could not sign with Houston, and that led to a court battle that the Oilers not only won but that helped bring legitimacy to the new league.

Cannon played the next 10 seasons for the Oilers and Oakland Raiders before ending his career one year later in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Cannon’s pro career began as a halfback, with the former LSU star leading the AFL in rushing and all-purpose yards in 1961. A four-time all-AFL choice, he was named MVP of the first two AFL championship games, both of which the Oilers won.

But he was moved to fullback and tight end when he joined the Raiders, where he won another league title in 1967 and played in Super Bowl II. A year later, he caught six touchdown passes, including a 48-yarder in the second quarter of the infamous “Heidi Game.”

Cannon was inducted into the LSU Hall of Fame in 1975, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1976 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008.

AFL historian Todd Tobias of talesfromtheamericanfootballleague.com posted notice of Cannon’s death, along with a litany of his trading cards (including several that were autographed). You can find them there … or you can find them here, thanks to Todd:

AFL Legend Billy Cannon Passes Away

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2 Comments

  1. Rob
    May 21, 2018
    Reply

    Clark, did Pete Rozelle signed Cannon in 1960 with the Rams?

  2. Robert
    May 30, 2018
    Reply

    Two star players at LSU were Billy Cannon (Heisman trophy winner) and Johnny Robinson (All-SEC First Team). Cannon was the overall number one pick and Robinson went as the overall third. Both signed to NFL teams and AFL teams. Cannon signed with the Rams and Robinson with the Lions. A federal court decided individual lawsuits by the NFL on both players that concluded that the NFL had signed them prematurely earlier during their season which violated NCAA rules and the AFL signed both of them after their last game under the goal post at the Sugar Bowl. Cannon signed with the Houston Oilers (now the Titans) and Robinson with the Dallas Texans (now the Chiefs).

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