Sep 2oo9 – Thanks, Billy II
Unexpectedly about seven years ago I received an e-mail from Leanne Weill, co-host of the radio show; It’s a Weill, Weill World. She is joined on the show by her husband, Gus Weill. The show is aired on WJBO AM-1150 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Leanne wanted permission to mention Two Cousins College Football Emporium (a website I used to Webmaster) on the air as a link to hear Billy Cannon’s 1959 punt return play.
Of course I said “yes!” to Ms. Weill! However, instead of e-mailing her about using 2cuz on the air, I called her and talked to Ms. Weill personally. This gave me the opportunity to relate to her the story of me and Billy Cannon, when I was a little boy and getting my book signed and so forth. Additionally, about a year earlier I had purchased another copy of the book, Peter Finney’s 75 Years of Fighting Tigers Football on e-Bay, an Internet auction house. I hoped if I held on to the book someday Cannon would be at a signing or a public event where I might again get my book autographed by Billy Cannon, 1959 Heisman Trophy winner.
Leanne loved the whole story! I was invited to attend the airing of the show at The Argosy Atrium in Baton Rouge on Thursday, June 13, 2002. The guest on the show would be Billy Cannon. Not known to be overly friendly toward the media, it was a rare treat to have an on-air interview with Billy Cannon.
I put on my 2000 Peach Bowl t-shirt, tucked my book under my arm and drove to the Argosy Atrium in downtown Baton Rouge. Upon arrival, Cannon was already present as well as Leanne and Gus Weill. I introduced myself to Ms. Weill and she in turn introduced me to Billy Cannon. At this time Leanne handed Cannon a copy of my article The Day I Met My Hero (last month’s Feature Blog, “Thanks, Billy”) and he read it over for about three minutes. Cannon stood and gave me a firm handshake and with a pale of embarrassment in his face thanked me for remembering the event so fondly but he had no memory of the event.
Cannon said, “it was a routine I must have done two- or three-hundred times with kids.” I knew I wasn’t the only kid Cannon had taken a moment or two for, but he also added, “I never turned a kid away.” I contrasted that with many of today’s athletes, and found it a refreshing statement. As far as I knew, I was the only one he had given special treatment to. I told Cannon it was a special day for me, as a kid, and I didn’t see any other kids around that day, so I must have been the special one.
I was a real thrill to meet Dr. Cannon again after thirty-three years. The radio show began and Dr. Cannon proved to be an open and honest on-air guest.
As the show went on, I sat with a fellow with a thick Cajun accent named “Paul”. He and I sat there and listened to the show and about every ten minutes or so Paul would take a slow, measured sip of his Bud Light and say, “Who’da thought I was gonna meet Billy Cannon here tonight.” Whenever a commercial break would stop the show, Paul and I would swap “Billy Cannon stories.” If you live in south Louisiana, especially Baton Rouge, and you are a fan of LSU football, you are required to know at least one “Billy Cannon story.” They are the stuff of legend and far beyond the scope of this article and most are likely untrue or greatly embellished over fifty plus years. Most of the stories include phrases along the line of the original story-teller “went to school with Cannon”, “was in the stadium”, or “an ole boy once told me.” These phrases are required in a “Billy Cannon story.”
Leanne had told me she was going to try and get me onto the radio show and tell my story about meeting Cannon as a boy and getting my book signed, etc. As the show wore on into the 50th minute of a 60-minute program, I thought me, my story and my book were lost in the shuffle of Billy Cannon himself telling Billy Cannon stories! What an irony.
Suddenly, Gus Weill wanted to go to commercial break but Leanne cut in and began to tell my story on the air. As the story got to the part about finding another copy of the book on e-Bay, I was waved “on stage” to ask Cannon to re-sign my book. To my surprise, I “stepped up to the mic”, book in hand, to a nice round of applause! The story was a hit and before I knew it, I was on the air telling the rest of the story.
My few moments in the spotlight were over all too quickly, the show ended shortly thereafter. I was surprised as a number of people approached me and told me how much they enjoyed the story about Cannon, a boy, a book and an autograph. A few of the guys in the band said the story “gave me chill bumps,” a true Southern expression of approval. I was glad I had decided to share the story and that others enjoyed it so much.
Billy Cannon, 1959 Heisman Trophy winner, stayed around for a while after the show and regaled those who cared to listen with stories of his pro football days. Playing with the likes of George Blanda, Daryl Lamonica, Len Dawson, having played in a Super Bowl against the Vince Lombardi-led Green Bay Packers and others. It was a real treat to listen to Cannon tell his stories.
For all the bad press the guy has been given, he seemed to shake it all off this night. To all those present, he is a symbol of Louisiana. Far from perfect, yet unwilling to hide his imperfections. Cannon has no skeletons in his closet; they have been made public for all to see. I admire him for that. He did something for Louisiana and Baton Rouge and LSU no one ever did before and has not done again to date. Cannon and his colorful teammates of 1958-59, the Go Team, the White Team and the Chinese Bandits, made Baton Rouge, for a few short years, the Mecca of college football.
Shortly after the show aired I talked for a moment with Mr. Gus Weill and as Mr. Weill walked away from my company he made a comment about Billy Cannon: “The man’s paid his dues.”
Indeed he has, Mr. Weill.
Note: October 31, 2009 marks the 50th anniversary of Billy Cannon’s Halloween run to glory.