Remembering LSU star Billy Cannon’s Halloween run
Seventeen seconds. That’s all it took on Halloween night 1959 for Billy Cannon to lock up a victory for defending national champions LSU against the No. 3 Ole Miss Rebels — and to race his way into LSU history. Heading into the game, played at a sold-out Tiger Stadium, both teams were unbeaten, and both were defensive powerhouses, making for a much-hyped SEC showdown. By the start of the fourth quarter, Ole Miss was in the driver’s seat, with a 3-0 lead and neither defense looking as if would yield. Then, on an Ole Miss punt, Cannon took over. Fielding the ball on a bounce at the 11-yard line, he stumbled, shucked no fewer than seven tackles and then rambled down the Ole Miss sideline. Eighty-nine yards later, the score stood at 7-3, which is exactly how it would end.
LSU fans have never forgotten that iconic play. In fact, they couldn’t even if they wanted to. In what has become a Halloween tradition, TV stations throughout the state replay the grainy, black-and-white footage of Cannon’s run every year — and every year LSU fans relish it.
- Ole Miss was so confident its defense could stymie LSU’s offense — which was unable to hold the ball for more than five consecutive plays — that the Rebels, with a three-point lead, began punting on first down.
- The day after the run, longtime Times-Picayune sports writer Peter Finney asked Cannon how he celebrated it. Referring to the next game on the Tigers’ schedule, Cannon replied: “How can you think of celebrating when Tennessee’s sitting at home waiting to knock us off?” That turned out to be prophetic. Tennessee would end up winning that game, ending the Tigers’ hopes of repeating as national champions.
- In the previous six games they each played to that point in the 1959 season, the Tigers and the Rebels had given up a combined 13 points.
- Cannon’s run was one of only three touchdowns given up by the Rebs all season.
- Ole Miss got its revenge. The two teams met again on Jan. 1 in that year’s Sugar Bowl, with Ole Miss winning by a score of 21-0.
- Cannon’s run came as part of what some consider one of college football’s greatest rivalries. From 1958 to 1963, LSU and Ole Miss played five games in which both teams were ranked in the top six.
- When they played a year before the Halloween run, banners reading “Go to Hell, Ole Miss” were strung up around campus. In response, the LSU campus was papered with flyers, dropped by airplane, reading “Go to hell LSU and stay there. Sincerely, Colonel Rebel.”
- Rumor has it that the flyers were actually dropped on the orders of LSU coach Paul Dietzel to provide a little extra motivation for his players.
- Ole Miss fans still regularly chant “Go to hell, LSU,” regardless of who their team is playing.
- Cannon was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983 but saw his enshrinement later nullified when, after his playing days, he became embroiled in a counterfeiting scheme. He was re-inducted in 2008.
- Because it was filmed in Baton Rouge, some assume the 1988 movie “Everybody’s All-American” was about Cannon. It wasn’t. The Frank Deford novel on which the film was based was set in North Carolina, and Deford has said its main character was a composite of several athletes he had covered. Cannon wasn’t one of them.
The Halloween night run didn’t just seal up a victory for LSU. It also locked up the Heisman Trophy for Cannon, who remains the only LSU player to win that prestigious award. (For the record: The trophy was presented to Cannon by Richard Nixon, then the U.S. vice president.) Even more importantly, it made Cannon a Tigers legend, providing fans with a moment that, all these years later, is still celebrated as one of the greatest plays — if not the single greatest play — in the storied history of Tigers football.