Saturday, October 4, 2008

Billy Cannon, the Original Raiders Outlaw

Billy Cannon was a special talent in the 1950's, earning legendary status with LSU, including a Heisman in 1959. Cannon was a powerful, fast, smart ball carrier. He could run it, catch it, field kicks, whatever. He dominated in college.

In the 1950's south, it was well known Cannon was a roughhouser type from "the wrong side of the tracks." One trait that stood out with Billy was his street smarts. He got away with a lot because of his status as football hero.

Cannon signed a three year contract in November 1959 for $50,000 with the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL. He even held a press conference with then-Rams general manager Pete Rozelle. Then on New Year's Day 1960, as soon as the Sugar Bowl ended, Cannon, before 83,000 fans, signed another contract, this one with the Houston Oilers of the AFL. That contract offered him $100,000 over three years, a $10,000 gift for his wife and a slightly used Cadillac.

He just had to throw the symbolic Caddy in there. It shows Cannon's thinking at the time. He was a man in search of the high life. He wanted to cash in on his athletic fame. Problem was, pro football had not yet become the cash cow it is today. Billy had to play his hand the best he could - and he did pretty well at it.

The Oilers were a very strong team in the AFL winning the Championship in 1960 and '61, losing in OT in '62. Cannon led the AFL in rushing in 1961 but hurt his back in 1962. He was traded to the Oakland Raiders in 1964.

This trade to Oakland is not a coincidence. Al Davis had been head coach for one year and was re-modeling the team in his own image.  There could not have been a better fit. Billy Cannon represented a true Al Davis reclamation project. You know how Al loves absorbing former number one picks on a downswing. Billy Cannon had become fat by this point because of his back problem.  He had slacked off on his exercising and playing time had diminished significantly.

Still, it did not take a genius to see he had could run with power and could still catch the ball. He was an ideal Tight End and a potent guy to have in your lineup.

Billy's contributions with the Raiders ran through 1969. In fact, he was an all star in 1969, after which he retired. For his career he amassed 3,656 yards receiving, 2,455 yards rushing and 1,882 return yards for a combined total of 8,003 yards and 63 touchdowns.

Sportswriter Rich Koster described Cannon ending his career as a "loner who snarled at sportswriters."

Though his luck ran out a few years after football when he was arrested for counterfeiting and did prison time.

A journalist from Los Angeles called Cannon "the most repugnant young profiteer ever to sell his talents to anyone who'd bid."

During the offseasons, however, Cannon had gone to dentistry school. With five children, Cannon knew he had to prepare for the future. Because of his popularity, Cannon's practice flourished to an estimated $300,000 a year.

It still was not enough for Billy who craved mass wealth. He continued on a path of bad business deals of many varieties, none working out, some breaking the law.

As an elderly fellow, Billy has done more prison time and not in country club style. Billy has lived in Angola, Louisiana as punishment for his greed. Symbolically, he's got a little too much Raider in him.

1 comment:

Jo Ann said...

Tthe last paragraph is incorrect. Billy is a fine dentist and works as the head of the department. He is not an inmate. He is a lovely man who has paid his debt.