While browsing new releases on Amazon a couple of months back, I was pleased to see that a new biography on AFL legend, Billy Cannon, had been written. I placed my order, and when the book arrived, I set it on my stack to read. I completed it just the other night, and sadly, have mixed feelings about it.
Billy Cannon is a fascinating figure. An All-American and Heisman Trophy winner from LSU, the AFL’s first marquee draft choice, a two-time AFL champ, Super Bowl II participant, dentist and felon convicted of counterfeit. There is enough juicy stuff there to keep a storyteller busy for quite some time, and I must say that author Charles deGravelles did a fine job of covering most of the material. In fact, I found the book to be very well-written. DeGravelles touts Cannon’s attributes, but also of pointing out his flaws. He digs a bit into Cannon’s psyche, and tries to determine what led to his ingrained streak of rebellion that got Cannon into several spots of trouble throughout his life.
I thought the sections on Cannon’s high school and collegiate days were very well-done. Likewise, the chapters on the counterfeit scandal and Billy’s involvement, his prison time and post-release life were interesting as well. However, the part that most interested me, Billy Cannon’s days in the AFL, was regrettably slim.
A closer look helps to determine why some sections of Cannon’s life were more thoroughly fleshed out than others. According to the author’s bio, Charles deGravelles spent more than 25 years as a minister to the inmates of Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, the prison where Cannon has managed the dental program since his release. As well, the book was published by the Louisiana State University Press, so the heavy leanings in those areas are understandable, if regrettable. Still, a page breakdown shows 62 pages dedicated to Billy’s four years at LSU, 48 pages about his dental career and jail time, yet a scant 23 pages cover Cannon’s 11 years in professional football, including his draft and the subsequent lawsuit by the Los Angeles Rams. Frankly, I could have used a lot more.
There were little-to-no fun stories about the AFL. Simply a rundown of Billy’s years and accomplishments, both individual and as a team. While the LSU days included rich quotes from fans, coaches and teammates, the AFL section was rather dry.
As I say, I sit somewhere on the fence on this one. The author has an enjoyable writing style, and does a good job covering much of Cannon’s life. Unfortunately he misses pretty badly on those critical 11 years as a pro, and frankly, that’s why I bought the book.