Billy Cannon. Undefeated team. Hated rival. Tiger Stadium was made for nights like this Saturday
Tiger Stadium was made for nights like this.
And nights like this made Tiger Stadium.
LSU is undefeated and ranked No. 5 in the country. It’s playing its first SEC home game of the season. The opponent is the Tigers’ most bitter rival – the Ole Miss Rebels. It’s a night game and the football gods, i.e. the television gods, threw in some lagniappe with an extra happy hour by setting kickoff at 8:15 p.m. CST.
But that’s not all. On Friday night LSU will unveil a statue of Tigers legend Billy Cannon, who passed away in the spring.
No other play in LSU football history is as legendary as Cannon’s 89-yard punt return against Ole Miss on Halloween night 1959. No other player in LSU football history is as legendary as Cannon, the Tigers’ only Heisman Trophy winner.
“(The unveiling) is a big deal because he is one of the all-time greats to play here at LSU,” Tigers coach Ed Orgeron said.
Cannon’s punt return kept No. 1 LSU undefeated by beating the third-ranked Rebels in the most memorable game between the two long-time rivals.
#LSU will unveil a statue of the late Dr. Billy Cannon, the school's only Heisman Trophy winner, on Friday, Sept. 28, the night before the Tigers host Ole Miss in Tiger Stadium.https://t.co/dcOCQzFvZg pic.twitter.com/iVgG6n3f66
— LSU Football (@LSUfootball) September 19, 2018
Later that season, after Tennessee had ended the Tigers’ national championship hopes with a victory in Knoxville a week after Halloween, the Rebels avenged the earlier loss with a 21-0 victory in the Sugar Bowl.
In 1968 and 1969 Ole Miss quarterback Archie Manning engineered upsets of ranked Tigers teams. In 1970, Manning went into Tiger Stadium wearing a cast on his broken non-throwing arm and No. 8 LSU rolled to a 61-17 payback victory over No. 16 Ole Miss.
Two years later the Rebels were on the verge of an upset of the undefeated Tigers, leading 16-10 in the final minute as LSU drove toward the Ole Miss goal line.
The Tigers snapped the ball from the 10 with just 4 seconds left as Bert Jones fired a pass that was knocked to the turf as the Rebels raised their arms in triumph. But there was 1 second left on the clock.
On the next play Jones floated a pass toward Brad Davis in the left flat. Davis, blinded as he looked for the football and caught the bright lights of the upper deck in his eyes, reached out, felt the ball touch his fingertips, secured the ball and fell across the goal line as LSU prevailed.
Months later on the sign at the Louisiana-Mississippi border, welcoming drivers to Louisiana, a Rebels fan painted, “Entering to Louisiana. Set your watch back four seconds.”
There are older Ole Miss fans still bitter about the slowness of the clock operator. There are older LSU fans still marveling at his flawless precision.
Part of the beauty of Cannon’s punt return is there was nothing controversial about it. That play helped clinch the Heisman for Cannon, but it was the previous season that is most memorable. The 1958 Tigers, led by Cannon, won the school’s first national championship.
It would be 45 more years until LSU won another national championship. The Tigers followed that 2003 championship with another in 2007, so younger Tigers fans have a sense that national championships aren’t all that hard to come by.
But for nearly half a century LSU fans looked at that 1958 team as unique, not only because it was the school’s only national championship team to that point but because it might have been the school’s only national championship for their lifetime or perhaps longer.
“I want to personally thank them for setting the standard for all LSU Tigers, and all LSU coaches,” Orgeron said. “Obviously, those guys are icons in LSU history and a lot of them are still around today and a lot of them are very supportive of what I and the LSU Tigers are doing.
These Tigers are in position to do something special and these Rebels are in position to ruin that.
It’s LSU and Ole Miss. It’s Saturday night in Tiger Stadium. Cannon no doubt will be looking down at what transpires as will Johnny Vaught, Charlie McClendon and hosts of other Rebels and Tigers.
“(Cannon’s) run at night is very historic,” Orgeron said. “You hear about it, we watch it and we talk to our recruits about it. This is a great rivalry. It is a going to be 8:15 at night in Tiger Stadium with LSU and Ole Miss and it is a great opportunity.”