Louisiana State University

1958 - 1964  Tigers  "Billy Cannon"
(Authentic Reproduction)







The 1958 season provided a few wrinkles that would be long lasting. The Green Bay gold helmet adorned with the one-inch white center stripe and three-quarter-inch purple flanking stripes now sported a black three-inch numeral on each side and the number style was changed to the Angelus Pacific type. This helmet design would be used through the 1964 season. Dietzel also put his own spin on the substitution rules of the day and created an approach where he used three rather than the usual two full eleven man squads and the best known of his three units was made up of players who for the most part couldn’t make the first two teams of LSU’s opponents. Dietzel’s famed Chinese Bandits of LSU began as a concept that first manifested itself in 1951 at the University Of Cincinnati. With the popular nationally distributed comic strip “Terry And The Pirates” as his inspiration, Dietzel dubbed his Bearcat defensive unit the Chinese Bandits when he served Sid Gillman as the defensive coach at UC. Though the 1951 contingent was a terrific 10-1 no one took notice of the middle-of-the-road program or the Bandits, one of the reasons that Gillman departed for greener pastures. When Dietzel resurrected the moniker in 1958 with a unit of little-known players, it caught the fancy of the entire nation. With a first team that practiced in the same type of white jerseys LSU favored for its home games and were thus dubbed the “White team”, and a second unit that wore gold jerseys, the LSU substitution arrangement using alternate squads of two-way players was similar to that of most collegiate programs. However the offensive oriented gold attired team had their nickname shortened to “Go” and Dietzel, noting that pre-season scrimmages did not indicate that the Tigers could withstand the more talented SEC squads they would face, fashioned a third unit that knew a few basic offensive plays, but would be inserted in specific defensive situations. A switch to the Wing-T offense souped things up as FB and kicker Tommy Davis returned from the military to join the second Go unit while the heralded frosh of ’56 fleshed out the new White team with Warren Rabb at QB, Billy Cannon at halfback, and Johnny Robinson at wingback. Only toward the end of the season would Davis’ punting and kicking be appreciated for the spectacular contribution they provided and after passing up his final year of college eligibility, he went on to a career with the Forty Niners that lasted from 1959 through ’69. With walk-on Mickey Magnham and talented Mel Branch as Bandit DE’s and strong-willed DT Gaynell Kinchen, whose sons would later star at LSU, the sum of the Bandits 5-3 alignment was much greater in every way than the individual parts. They were first noticed as Dietzel inserted them on their own five yard line against Bear Bryant’s first Alabama team. Not wanting the White team to tire out and be emotionally down when a sure TD was going to be scored, the Chinese Bandits came in and stuffed three Alabama attempts, forced a field goal, and preserved a 13-3 win. By the 41-0 October 10th game against Miami, the Tigers had cracked the top ten rankings and their three units were gaining notice. Against number six Ole Miss, center Max Fugler led the charge that halted the potent Rebels three times at the half-foot marker, a performance that later secured All American honors for him and vaulted LSU to number one in the AP poll and number two for UPI. Talent pushed the Tigers to unanimous number one and by the end of the season, following a 62-0 barrage of Tulane, a total point yield of an incredible 53 points, and a 10-0 record, Cannon was a household word. An All American, SEC MVP, and track star, Billy came in third in the Heisman voting as the Tigers were crowned National Champions. With Cannon, Rabb, and Robinson, the three stars of the Tiger backfield comprising the All SEC backfield, Clemson fell in the Sugar Bowl and Dietzel shared in the honors as SEC Coach Of The Year as well as National Coach Of The Year. Others like FB Brodnax, the team MVP who took his talent to the Broncos for the ’60 season, became state-wide heroes. 


Many of the National Championship team stalwarts returned for 1959 but the Bayou Tigers were now a target. As the pre-season number one poll pick, the champions showed their mettle by hanging on to the top slot until their November 7th loss to thirteenth ranked Tennessee in the season’s eighth game. If one characteristic marked the season it was consistently great speed, tenacity, and intensity on a defense that finished the year ranked second in the nation against both the run and scoring, number three against the pass, and number two overall to that of National Champion Syracuse. Perhaps unbelievable relative to the recent era, the team gave up but three TD’s for the entire season, one on a punt return, one via interception, and this defensive unit gave up only one and that came on a twenty-six yard drive after the offense lost a fumble! Unfortunately the offense was inconsistent a good deal of the time despite the efforts of stars Robinson and Cannon. Prior to the Tennessee loss, the big showdown was the Halloween night face-off against unbeaten, third-ranked Ole Miss, a game still considered to be one of the all-time greats in the South. The defensive struggle featuring first, second, and third down punts and quick kicks in a field position battle, entered the final quarter with Ole Miss hanging on to a 3-0 lead. Ole Miss QB and punter Jake Gibbs, a future catcher with the N.Y. Yankees punted on third down and watched the ball bounce into Cannon’s arms at the Tiger eleven. From there, one of the most famous punt returns in college football history may have won the Heisman Trophy for Billy Cannon as he bulled and weaved his way eighty-nine yards to the end zone for a 7-3 victory. Cannon, with help from QB Rabb who doubled at safety while on defense, preserved the win with yet another hallowed play in Tiger history as they throttled Rebel QB Doug Elmore on the one yard line with eighteen seconds left in the game. Finishing at 9-1 and ranked third nationally, LSU found itself going to the Sugar Bowl for a rematch against 9-1 Ole Miss who sat at number two. The Tigers injury list had them without QB Rabb and soph sensation Wendell Harris, called “The next Cannon” by many. Cannon won the Heisman but the 21-0 loss to Mississippi took some luster off of what otherwise had been another great season. Johnny Robinson went on to a great pro career with the Dallas Texans/KC Chiefs and was named to the All Time All AFL team as a DB. DE Mel Branch had nine years with the Texans/Chiefs and expansion Dophins while QB Rabb recovered from his injury and played with the Lions and Bills. End Mangham brought honor to LSU when he was named Academic All American and later became a successful attorney. Soph 200 pound tackle Charles “Bo” Strange was an All SEC force. Cannon became embroiled in controversy when he signed a pro contract under the Sugar Bowl goal posts with the AFL Oilers and it was revealed he had previously signed with the NFL Rams. The courts awarded his rights to Houston and the most storied player in LSU history was a key to the Oilers early success until limited by a severe low back injury which had him traded to Oakland. Switched to TE, Cannon finished a productive pro career in 1970 with the Chiefs.





The eager to succeed Billy Cannon purposely failed his eighth grade classes so that he could be left back and thus be bigger and stronger for football at Istrouma High School in Baton Rouge. By the time he graduated, serious dedication to weight training with Olympic weightlifting team trainer Alvin Roy had molded Cannon into a 200 pound combination of speed and strength that made him a sprint and shot put champion as well as an unstoppable running back. An immediate star, Cannon was the scourge of the SEC. He returned kicks and punts, played great defense, and could run inside or outside. When necessary, he passed well and always was a threat as a receiver. Excelling at every phase of the game as a two-time All American and two-time Conference MVP, Cannon was the number one draft choice of both AFL and NFL clubs after winning the1959 Heisman Trophy. It was later apparent that both he and teammate Johnny Robinson had signed pro contracts with the NFL Rams and Lions respectively prior to playing in the Sugar Bowl but the courts upheld that their subsequently signed AFL contracts were the valid ones and Cannon was on track to pro stardom with the Houston Oilers. He was All AFL in 1961 and had flashed enough game-day heroics to satisfy fans and critics until suffering a debilitating low back injury. Sent to the Raiders in 1964 and shifted to tight end, he again was All AFL in 1969 and then finished his career in 1970 with the Chiefs. He was one of twenty players who was active for the full ten year life span of the AFL and completed his pro career with 3656 yards in receptions, 2455 in rushing, 1882 in return yardage, and a total of 8003 with sixty-four touchdowns. Cannon attended dental school at Memphis State in the off seasons and became a practicing dentist upon his retirement from pro football. His son, Billy, Jr. starred at Texas A&M and was a productive rookie for the Dallas Cowboys before suffering a career ending neck injury.



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