BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU has produced some of the most electrifying and colorful athletes in American sports history, with figures such as Pete Maravich and Shaquille O’Neal becoming household names. But on the LSU campus, no name has surpassed that of Billy Cannon in the 58 years since he left.
“I think he’s equal to them or surpasses them,” LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said of Cannon’s spot with Maravich and O’Neal on LSU’s figurative Mount Rushmore. “With what he was able to do as a Heisman Trophy winner as an unbelievable college athlete. And he had a great life after football too. He was a really special man.”
Cannon died Sunday morning at the age of 80.
“You never want this day to come, but it happens to us all at some point,” Alleva said. “I visited him two or three weeks ago. He didn’t suffer at all, so thank God for that.”
Alleva, who spoke to SEC Country at LSU’s softball regional championship game, said Cannon would have been able to play in any era. Cannon was 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds in an era where the average lineman was between 230-240 pounds.
“With his size and speed, he still could have been a running back today,” Alleva said. “He was bigger than a lot of linemen in his day.”
Cannon remains the lone player in LSU history to win the Heisman Trophy, which he did in 1959. He will also become the first LSU football player to have a statue built outside of Tiger Stadium. Alleva said the hope is for the Cannon statue to be erected by the end of 2018 season.
And though it seems sad that Cannon won’t be there to see it in person, it turns out he already knew exactly what it will look like.
“What really is cool is that Billy and his family had input on the design of the statue,” Alleva said. “He’s seen it. He was involved with the whole process.
“Our goal was to have it up this football season and we still may be able to pull that off. Unfortunately he won’t be here, but he approved it.”