Talk about the LSU-Ole Miss football series, and Billy Cannon’s name is sure to come up.
The former LSU running back and 1959 Heisman Trophy winner’s biography “Billy Cannon: A Long, Long Run,” which went on sale in August, tells the tale of a 78-year-old life of spectacular highs and lows that shows no signs of slowing down.
He also has lots to say about Leonard Fournette, who he says still has a good chance of becoming the next Heisman Trophy winner from LSU.
Q. Last couple of weeks, nationally, the perception is Leonard Fournette has been bottled up and been reserved a bit.
A. Bottled up would be an understatement, I think. They had a picture in Sports Illustrated this week of him carrying the ball, being attacked by seven (defenders) and they knocked him completely up in the air. And there’s four LSU linemen on the ground. I don’t think Jim Thorpe could run into that type situation.
As long as they’re going to sell out, to put seven, eight men in the box, that means everybody else in the spread is one-on-one. We’ve got to do something different to get him the ball in an open area, in an area where he can run, be effective.
Q. I’d imagine you’ve seen that same type of attention shown to you by defenses during your time. What are creative ways of getting Leonard involved now, when there is so much attention on trying to stop him?
A. Well, you’ve got to get the ball to him outside the box. And they attempted one in the last game to throw a pass to him out of the backfield. He was completely open, would’ve gained 15 to 20 yards plus, and they missed the pass. And they never came back to it. The right idea, but not used again.
Screen passes. Draw plays. But to do that, you have to establish the pass, and we’ve not been able to do that.
Q. You still planning a trip up to New York for the Heisman ceremony?
A. I am. And I’m planning to come back victorious.
Q. Over the last two weeks, it hasn’t diminished the fact that Fournette is still the best player in the game, right?
A. Not at all. I’m prejudiced, don’t get me wrong. I saw the kid play in high school. This year, my greatest worry was that he would gain weight during the off season with the off-season programs. When the weights came out that he was still at 230, I told my colleagues, I said, “Look, that means he can still outrun the safeties and the corners when he breaks open.” And he proved that early in the year. The bad news, we haven’t broken open too much lately.
Q. Your signature moment was a big play against Ole Miss. Is there any chance he could make a signature play this week that propels him back to the front of the Heisman list?
A. I would look forward to it. If they want to sell out and stop him, then we have a great chance. If I were the coach at Ole Miss, and I’m looking at the film, I would stop him first. And worry about the rest later.
Q. It’s Ole Miss week. What’s the LSU-Ole Miss matchup mean to you and your group of teammates that had so much success against these guys?
A. Well, of course, you know in my era, we were playing against the great Coach Johnny Vaught, who had great players. The thing that the matchup means to me today, 50 years later, is you better bring your A game or you’re going to get embarrassed.
Q. Centainly, when LSU plays Ole Miss, our favorite memory is your punt return. What are your memories of that play?
A. You know, when you’re running out of time, you take chances that you’re not supposed to take. And sometimes you end up with the best plays when you do take chances. I took a chance on it and got a beautiful bounce and just had great help along the way.
Broke a few tackles and when it all cleared and I’m facing the safety, which was the punter, which was Jake Gibbs, their All-American quarterback. I knew in his mind, he thought I would cut back to the open field. Well, I gave a little fake and went to the sidelines and he missed the tackle. And I scored, luckily.
And that was the only tackle that Jake Gibbs missed in his entire career... Now, that was the only tackle he ever attempted. (Laughs) I told that at the Jackson touchdown club with Jake sitting right there and he was smiling til I said the last sentence. And we had a great laugh.