1959 Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon has experienced ups & downs in life

By A.J. Giardina – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Billy Cannon captured the Heisman Trophy after the 1959 football season.  Cannon's statistics pale in comparison to Heisman winners of today.  He rushed for 598 yards, returned eight kickoffs for 191 yards and scored seven touchdowns.

Cannon helped the 1958 LSU Tigers capture the National Football title after defeating Clemson 7-0 in the Sugar Bowl.  His jersey number, "20" was retired after the 1959 season.

Cannon said, "We had a great four years in Baton Rouge at LSU. We really came from rags to riches."  He added, "They had built a stadium and nobody came to see it and we filled it up. Great kids, got great educations and have done well ever since."

After his senior season at LSU he secretly signed a $50,000 contract with the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL.   He later inked another contract with the Houston Oilers of the American Football League for $100,000 a year, becoming the first six-figure player in pro football.

"And I was negotiating with Vancouver of the Canadian Football League," Cannon joyfully stated.  "You know when people come up to you and put money, cash money, you take it and put it into your pocket."

The NFL and AFL went to court and the Houston contract was ruled binding.  Cannon played four seasons with the Oilers and was named All-AFL running back in 1961.  In 1964 Cannon was traded to the Oakland Raiders.

Cannon said he was upset, "I hated the tight end position but after I hurt my back my third year in Houston it was a position I should have been playing."

Cannon admitted that he took a toll running the football but kept quite.  "There were things I could do previously that I couldn't do anymore," he stated.  "Now I wasn't going to tell anybody that I couldn't do it because I wanted the money, I wanted to play."

Cannon said he was lucky to have been traded to Al Davis with the Oakland Raiders.  He said Davis told him, "Billy I'm going to extend your career and I'm going to move you to tight end. He said all my tight ends are hurt.  He said just play three or four games for me and I told him to trade me."

Davis told Billy he was going to keep him and keep him at the tight end position.  After playing the tight end position, Cannon later knew it was the right move, extending his pro career by seven years.  He remained with the Raiders until 1970 and played one more season with the Kansas City Chiefs.  Cannon was one of only twenty players in the history of the AFL to play in the league the entire 10 years before the AFL and NFL merged.

In 1983 Cannon's life took a tailspin.  He spent five years in prison, convicted of participating in a counterfeiting operation.

Cannon sold his Heisman Trophy to restaurant owner Tom Moran in 1986.  He eats free of charge at T.J. Ribs in Baton Rouge where his trophy is on display.

He said New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush should not have turned in his 2005 Heisman Trophy.  Cannon said he doesn't have kind words to say about the NCAA.

His life is back on track at the age of 73.  He donates his time at Angola Prison serving as an orthodontist.

Cannon was born in Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1937 and later moved to Baton Rouge with his family when his father found work in Louisiana.  He graduated from Istrouma High School and enrolled at LSU and the rest is history.

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