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Former AFL standout, Heisman winner Billy Cannon dies at 80

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Billy Cannon, the gifted running back who won the Heisman Trophy for LSU in 1959 with a memorable Halloween night punt return touchdown against Mississippi, died Sunday. He was 80.

LSU said Cannon, the school's only Heisman winner, died at his home in St. Francisville. The cause of death was not immediately known.

Cannon led the Tigers to a national championship in 1958 and won the Heisman following year, highlighted by his tackle-breaking 89-yard punt return that beat Ole Miss 7-3.

"Nearly 60 years later, Louisianans still talk about that Halloween night," Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said. "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 went on to a successful pro career with the Houston Oilers, Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs, and became a dentist after retiring from football. But life after football was far from smooth. He served two years in federal prison for counterfeiting in the mid-1980s after a series of bad investments and debts left him broke.

He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008, though it came on the second time he was voted in. The first time was in 1983, but the honor was rescinded because of his legal issues. After leaving prison, it took Cannon a while to put his life back together. He eventually was hired to be the dentist in the Louisiana State Penitentiary. His efforts at the prison were credited with restoring quality care for the inmates. He served as the dentist at the prison until retiring in January. The inmates would call him "Legend."

Cannon was an overwhelming choice as the Heisman winner in 1959, when he also was named Associated Press player of the year, and followed that up by being the No. 1 overall selection in both the AFL and NFL drafts in 1960. LSU retired his No. 20 jersey.

Cannon began his pro career with Houston of the AFL and later played for Oakland and Kansas City, retiring after the 1970 season. His career included a Super Bowl loss with the Raiders at the end of the 1967 season. He also won the first two AFL championships with Houston in 1960 and 1961, and was named the title games' most valuable player both times.

"I am sad to hear that our franchise has lost one of its first stars today, with the passing of Billy Cannon," Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk said in a statement. "My father recognized that the AFL would need first-rate players to compete with the NFL, both on the field and in public perception, and Billy was one of those special players, who helped the Oilers and the AFL in that process. Choosing to sign with the Oilers, instead of the NFL's Los Angeles Rams, Billy was a key player in our back-to-back AFL titles in 1960 and 1961. I want to offer our condolences to his family. Billy's legacy will be long remembered in our franchise's history."

Cannon is survived by his wife, Dorothy, and five children -- Terry, Gina, Billy Jr., Bunnie and Dara.

Copyright 2018 by The Associated Press.

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