Category Archives: Billy Cannon

Billy Cannon, Part 1 – The War Begins

One of the most important of early American Football League players was Houston Oilers running back, Billy Cannon.  In a two-part study, Dave Steidel takes a look at how Cannon came to the Oilers, and what he meant to the AFL.

Autographed 1960 Fleer Billy Cannon

#066 – Billy Cannon

When asked what one player, more than any other, saved the AFL from peril and brought it to the cusp of parity with the NFL, most people will answer, Joe Namath.  When asked what one player put the AFL on the map, gave it immediate credibility and brought it more publicity than they could have imaged even before they played a single game, the answer has to be Billy Cannon, everybody’s All-American!  He was my first favorite AFL player.   Cannon was the 1959 Heisman Trophy winner and college football’s glamour boy, having led his LSU Tigers to the 1958 National Championship and authored the most talked about play of the season, his Halloween night punt return to beat Mississippi.  Cannon was the biggest name signed by AFL in 1960 after Houston owner Bud Adams convinced him to sign with the Oilers and abandon the letter of intent he signed with Pete Rozelle and the Los Angeles Rams.  The Oilers signing took place under the goal posts following the Sugar Bowl, his last game, setting off a war between the two leagues that would end up in the courtroom and put the AFL on the national media map.  It would be the AFL’s biggest coup over the NFL after the senior league torpedoed them by first stealing one the founding franchises, Minnesota and then after both Lamar Hunt and Bud Adams did not bite on the expansion committee’s last ditch offer to squash the league by giving them the franchises they sought in the first place, dropped a new team, the Cowboys, in Hunt’s back yard. read more

Important Moments in AFL History Gallery

joe foss hired as afl commissioner

Joe Foss (center) is congratulated by Lamar Hunt (left) and Harry Wismer (right) after being named as the first commissioner of the AFL.

For the past few years I have been putting together a collection of wire service photos that represent some of the more important moments in AFL history.  I recently opened a new photo gallery for this collection, which can be found on the home page.  The gallery is titled, “Important Moments in AFL History.”

The gallery opens with a photo that was distributed by the Associated Press on August 1, 1959.  This image, which is the earliest piece of AFL memorabilia that I have found, shows a young Lamar Hunt, and carries the following caption: DALLAS, TEXAS – AUG 1 – SEEKS NEW FOOTBALL LEAGUE – Lamar Hunt, 26, son of oil billionaire H.L. Hunt of Dallas is seeking to organize a new pro football league which will try to start play in 1960. read more

The Dual Draft of the Early 1960s

Autographed 1965 Topps Joe NamathPrior to the AFL and NFL coming to an agreement on a merger in 1966, the two leagues held independent drafts for players coming out of college.  That meant that a given player would often be drafted by one team from the NFL and another team from the AFL.  This gave certain players something of a bargaining chip, as the more highly desired players could play the two teams off each other during contract negotiations.  This in turn caused the salaries of incoming rookies to escalate, and more than anything else, forced the two leagues to meet and hash out a merger agreement. read more

How do you rank Billy Cannon’s draft position?

1960 Fleer Billy CannonI had a thought-provoking inquiry recently by Tex Noel, the Executive Director of the Intercollegiate Football Researchers Association.  Tex was working on a massive project in which he had compiled a list of all First Round Draft Choices, from every professional football league that held a draft (AFL, NFL, AAFC, WFL, USFL, XFL and CFL – the latter only when a player from the United States was drafted).  Tex was inquiring about Billy Cannon, the highly touted Houston Oilers draft choice from 1960.  His question was how Cannon should be categorized, as a first round draft choice, or as a territorial draft choice. read more