ON HALLOWEEN 1959, with undefeated Louisiana State trailing undefeated Ole Miss 3--0 on an electric night on the Bayou, Billy Cannon dropped back deep in his own territory to field a Rebels' punt. The kick bounced, and Cannon picked it up at the 11-yard line. Tigers coach Paul Dietzel had a rule against fielding punts inside the 15, but Cannon took off with the ball anyway, emerging from a pack of would-be tacklers to scamper the last 60 yards untouched for the most famous touchdown in LSU history.
Cannon was never one to adhere to rules. His first brush with the law came when he was in high school in Baton Rouge; he and some pals tried to extort some men whom they had seen with prostitutes. And after his playing career, Cannon—a dentist who ran into money problems—served time at a federal prison in Texas for his part in a counterfeiting operation.
But, oh, what a playing career it was. Cannon led the Tigers to the 1958 national title, and his Halloween heroics—which included tackling Ole Miss sophomore quarterback Doug Elmore a yard short of the end zone on the game's final down—played a big part in his winning the Heisman Trophy in '59. Cannon played for the Houston Oilers and was named MVP of the first two AFL championship games, and he later appeared in Super Bowl II with the Oakland Raiders.
But nothing would top that magical punt return. On the sideline afterwards, Cannon—who became the dentist at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in 1995, a position he held until his death on May 20—was photographed taking oxygen. "That's my career at LSU," he said years later. "Deep breathing."