Get Raiders news in your inbox. Sign up now for the free Raiders HQ newsletter.
Billy Cannon, a star on the Raiders’ first Super Bowl team and the first of seven Heisman Trophy winners to play for the Raiders, died on Sunday. He was 80.
Cannon was an All-Pro tight end for the Raiders in 1967, leading them with 10 touchdowns, helping them win their only American Football League title before their Super Bowl II loss to the Packers.
“The Raiders family is saddened to learn of the passing of Billy Cannon,” the Raiders said in a statement. “One of many Heisman Trophy winners to wear the Silver and Black, Cannon always embodied the Raiders spirit. The organization’s sincere condolences are with the Cannon family at this time.”
Former Raiders All-Pro Billy Cannon, who helped Oakland to its first Super Bowl in 1967, passed away on Sunday, May 20, 2018. He was 80. (Ron Riesterer photo from Oakland Tribune archives).
Cannon and George Blanda, who later teamed up with the Raiders, starred for the Houston Oilers and led the team to the first two AFL championships in 1960 and ’61. Cannon was the MVP in both title games.
Former Raiders coach John Madden said acquiring both Cannon and Blanda from the Oilers in 1967 was a key in turning the Raiders into first-time champions.
“It gave us not only instant credibility but instant veterans and crustiness,” Madden told KCBS-740’s Steve Bitker on Monday. “And there was no one crustier than George Blanda and Billy Cannon. But you need some crusty. Crusty’s good.
“With Blanda and Cannon … that gave us that veteran piece that we could get through what we had to get through until we got to Green Bay in the Super Bowl.”
Al Davis converted the star running back into a tight end in Oakland and Cannon became the first of seven Heisman Trophy winners to wear the Silver & Black. Jim Plunkett, Marcus Allen, Bo Jackson, Tim Brown, Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson followed in Cannon’s Heisman footsteps with the Raiders.
(The Raiders also had two other former Heisman Trophy winners under contract — quarterback Andre Ware and running back Rashaan Salaam were both with the team during training camp before being cut).
Although Cannon was arguably the AFL’s first superstar, he first gained notoriety as one of the greatest college football players of all-time. He was a two-time All-American running back for LSU, leading the Tigers to the 1958 national title and winning the 1959 Heisman Trophy.
Cannon’s Louisiana legacy includes a memorable 1959 Halloween night punt return touchdown against Mississippi, when he broke numerous tackles on a 79-yard scoring return that gave the Tigers a 7-3 win.
“Nearly 60 years later, Louisianans still talk about that Halloween night,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards told the Associated Press. “Billy’s legacy at LSU will live on for generations, and every time we enter Tiger Stadium, we’ll remember the impact he left on the players and fans who came after him.
“To put it simply, he was one of a kind.”
Cannon’s legacy also includes some rough times, including a 2 1/2-year stint in federal prison for counterfeiting in the 1980s. He was first inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1980 but the honor was taken away after his legal troubles.
Former LSU running back and Heisman trophy winner Billy Cannon waves to the crowd at the end of the first quarter of the LSU-Tulane NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 31, 2009. It was the 50th anniversary of Cannon’s 89-yard run against Mississippi. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
Following his release from prison, Cannon wound up back in the Louisiana State Penitentiary — as the facility’s dentist. He remained there until retiring in January, according to AP.
After cleaning up his life, Cannon was re-inducted into college football’s Hall of Fame in 2008.
“It’s the old penthouse, outhouse story,” Cannon said at 2008 Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Raiders sign draft picks Brandon Parker, Nick Nelson
Sports Gambling 101: What might our future of legalized betting look like?
If only HBO’s ‘Hard Knocks’ could have met Madden’s Raiders
Raiders sign first-round pick Kolton Miller
Why A’s could follow Raiders to Las Vegas, in a minor sense
Cannon is survived by his wife, Dorothy, and five children — Terry, Gina, Billy Jr., Bunnie and Dara. Billy Jr. was a first-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 1984, but he suffered a career-ending neck injury after just eight games.
Associated Press contributed to this report.