Billy Cannon is always grateful to be remembered for things he did on the football field more than 50 years ago.
Take Thursday, for example. Cannon received the Legacy Award during the Johnny “The Jet” Rodgers Return Specialist awards banquet.
“It’s a nice honor, for something that myself and a group of kids 50-plus years ago did,” Cannon said. “My teammates from then, any time there is one of these events, they always remind me that they were on the field, too.”
The good-natured ribbing Cannon receives every time that famous punt return he made Halloween night in 1959 is recalled is always appreciated. It helped power LSU to an important victory over Mississippi during its national championship season.
Cannon broke six tackles during that legendary 89-yard punt return that LSU fans appreciate as much as Nebraska backers fondly recall the 1971 punt return by Rodgers in the Game of the Century victory over Oklahoma.
“For a punt return to be remembered this long, with all of the great offensive, defensive and special team plays that have been made since then, for one to stand out this long, is just fantastic,” Cannon said.
This year’s Jet Award winner was Tavon Austin of West Virginia. Austin had 2,760 all-purpose yards in 2012, including 114 receptions for 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns as a wide receiver in the Mountaineers’ first season in the Big 12 Conference.
Austin finished his collegiate career as West Virginia’s career leader in receptions, receiving yards, kick return yards and kick return touchdowns.
According to the Baltimore Sun, Austin was in Baltimore — his hometown — Thursday afternoon for a private workout with the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens. The NFL draft is scheduled for April 25-27, and Austin is projected as a late first-round selection.
Mountaineers special teams coach Steve Dunlap accepted the award at Hilton Omaha on Austin’s behalf.
Prior to Thursday’s awards banquet, Cannon talked about a number of football-related subjects, including the recent dominance of college football by the Southeastern Conference.
Cannon said it’s simply the same model that Bud Wilkinson proved was effective throughout the 1950s while leading Oklahoma to three national championships in the first seven years of that decade.
“The success of the SEC is followed almost directly in recent years by the rabidity of the fans,” Cannon said. “Bud proved this years ago that donations to a university are directly proportional to the success of the university’s sports teams.
“Expanded stadiums, expanded income from television — those things lead to expansion into other sports and facilities. A good national football player will want to play on a good football team.”
Cannon said schools like Mississippi and Vanderbilt, which haven’t enjoyed sustained success that other SEC programs have, also are enjoying the benefits.
“The SEC led the way in revenue sharing,” Cannon said. “That’s why you see Vanderbilt going to bowl games and winning, because they’ve played such a rugged schedule every week. When you look across the division and see Florida, South Carolina, Georgia on your schedule, you know you’re ready for anybody.”
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