MULE’: Number of Tiger Hall of Famers Shameful
Do numbers of Hall of Famers indicate national supremacy? For LSU’s sake, let’s hope not…
by Marty Mule’
Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
Note: Tiger Rag senior editor Matt Deville contributed to this piece.
(At left) Y.A. Tittle was regarded as one of the greatest passers of the first half-century in both college and the NFL. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated Vault)
There wasn’t much suspense at the Heisman Trophy ceremonies 49 years ago.
Unlike Saturday night when Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford eked out the award over Texas’ Colt McCoy and Florida’s Tim Tebow, it was pretty much a slam dunk in Dec. 1959.
In 1959 LSU’s Billy Cannon received 1,929 votes, more than tripling the total of the runner-up, Richie Lucas of Penn State. To put his landslide in context, consider that Cannon’s total was more than the votes of the next eight contenders he beat out – combined!
An extraordinary athlete in the mid-20th Century, the legend lives on about Cannon winning a sprint in record time at the SEC Track Championships. He then walked across the field to win the shot put event.
But it was football where he made his name.
Nearly half a century after Cannon put on purple-and-gold togs, his 5.2 per-carry average would still be ranked in the top five all-time in LSU’s record books – that is if had he run the ball 41 more times in his career.
The cutoff is 400 carries. Cannon logged 359.
The game was vastly different in the 1950s than now. Cannon only played three years; most of LSU’s great runners played (or had the opportunity to play) four years. Plus, he played defense. None of the others had to.
In 1999, sports outlets around the country scrambled to compile a list of the 20th Century’s greatest athletes. ESPN boasted its SportsCentury retrospective, naming the 100 greatest athletes of the 20th Century. Michael Jordan was No. 1 there are few would argue.
Babe Ruth was second on the list. The same Ruth drank, smoke and caroused with the best of ‘em, but he could still hit it a mile. Jack Nicklaus, who was known for his pudgy frame in his heyday, won 15 major golf championships. He was No. 9.
The list contained football players, golfers, tennis players even boxers, among many others.
Even a horse?
Man o’ War, one of the great thoroughbreds of the early 20th Century, came in at No. 84.
With that being said, Bernie Kish, then the executive director of the College Football Hall of Fame, took note of Cannon’s all-around abilities. In 1959, Cannon had 19 receptions for 522 yards; 12 passing attempts for 118 yards; 31 punt returns for 349 yards and 22 kickoff returns for 616 yards. All of these came in an era when yards were a lot harder to come by. Taking these into consideration as well as his track attributes, his defensive stats weren’t kept. Kish went on to say, “You know, Billy Cannon might have been the most productive back of that decade.”
As it turned out, within 24 hours of Oklahoma’s Bradford picking up the Heisman hardware Saturday night, Cannon – finally, and deservedly – entered the College Football Hall of Fame.
Because of his well-known personal transgressions, Cannon likely will go down in history as the only player to be elected twice.
The first time, in 1983, the vote was rescinded in the wake of his counterfeiting charges. Twenty-five years later it was determined he should be granted entry. The National Football Foundation decided what he did on the field should trump the biggest fumble of his life. And 25 years later, Cannon hadn’t even received so much as a traffic ticket.
“We looked closely at the matter,’’ said National Football Foundation president Archie Manning. “As a player there was never any question Billy Cannon belonged in the Hall of Fame. From everything we could gather, he’s been a solid citizen for the last 25 years. He deserves this, too.’’
Manning added that more Tiger greats need to be considered in the next few years.
“Certainly people like Jerry Stovall, Charles Alexander and Bert Jones need to be thought of. LSU has a lot of people with a lot of credentials.”
To say LSU is woefully under-represented goes without saying. Some schools have lobbied hard for induction into the hall for individuals whose body of work is complimented by more than their on the field accomplishments.
LSU has acted different.
Until recently, LSU has always maintained the attitude that ‘if a player is good enough, the Hall of Fame will recognize him without the school expending much effort.’
In 115 years of LSU football, Cannon became just the sixth Tiger player to be inducted. That puts LSU in a sixth place tie with Ole Miss in the SEC for the number of athletes so honored.
Tennessee has a wonderful football tradition, but in its history do the Vols have four times as many outstanding players as LSU? Tennessee has 19 players in the Hall.
Alabama has 16, Georgia 10, Arkansas 7 and Auburn 7.
For our purposes, coaches were not counted because they tend to be associated with multiple schools. Charlie McClendon and Bernie Moore are the only ones truly identified with LSU. Other LSU coaches in the Hall, who were head coaches at other schools in addition to LSU, include Dana X. Bible, Mike Donahue and Biff Jones are not.
LSU likes to think of itself as a national power, but compare the Tigers with true national names: Notre Dame has 38 players recognized by the Hall while Southern Cal has 27, overwhelming the Tigers’ marginal total.
Other major programs with strong representation in the Hall include: Ohio State with 23, Michigan with 23, Oklahoma with 18 and Penn State with 16.
Perhaps a more jolting fact is that LSU needs one more player inducted to catch up with in-state rival Tulane, a program they like to dismiss. The Green Wave hasn’t played an SEC game since 1965, but have six players in the Hall. Even small-college force Grambling has four Hall of Famers — just two behind Louisiana’s football flagship.
Taking a look at which LSU players are enshrined in the Hall, four of the six played at LSU prior to 1940. G.E. “Doc” Fenton (1904-09), Abe Mickal (1933-35), Gaynell Tinsley (1934-36) and Ken Kavanaugh (1937-39) all are members of the Hall.
Tommy Casanova (1969-71) was a 1995 inductee and Cannon (1957-59) round out the class with his recent entry.
While most players and coaches will go on record as saying honors and accolades don’t matter, as Tiger fans, you should be aggravated. LSU fans are too proud of their on the field heroes not to allow them to get their just due.
Take for example Jerry Stovall?
An LSU letterman from 1960-62, Stovall was the 1962 Heisman Trophy runner-up and a consensus 1962 first team All-American.
Not satisfied yet?
He was also named the 1982 National Coach of the Year in leading LSU to the Orange Bowl. It’s a no-brainer.
Another sure-fire inductee is quarterback Bert Jones. Nicknamed “The Ruston Rifle,” Jones starred at LSU from 1970-72 and was named a 1972 first team All-American. He was later selected as the No. 2 overall pick in the 1973 NFL Draft.
Speaking of the NFL, LSU boasts three players who have been inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Steve Van Buren (1941-43) was an All-SEC back in 1943 and at age 87 is the oldest living member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Y.A. Tittle (1944-47), who was a rare four-year starter at LSU, was considered one of the greatest collegiate passers of the first half-century. He was a two-time All-SEC pick in 1946 and 1947 before being selected as the No. 6 pick in the 1948 NFL Draft.
Tittle went on to a 17-year NFL career, in which he was a seven-time All-Pro selection and was named NFL Most Valuable Player twice. Tittle passed for 33,070 yards, and 242 touchdowns and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.
The only thing missing from his resume was an NFL Championship. Tittle led the Giants to the NFL Championship Game in 1961, 1962 and 1963, but never got over the hump.
And speaking of NFL Championships, Jimmy Taylor has plenty of them. Taylor, a 1957 All-American at LSU, won three of them (four in all with one Super Bowl title in 1966) with the Green Bay Packers. Taylor teamed with the great Paul Hornung as the Packers won league titles in 1961, 1962 and 1965.
Taylor, who was a six-time All-Pro selection, was the 1962 NFL MVP and was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1976.
With that being said, Van Buren, Tittle nor Taylor are members of the College Football Hall of Fame.
Marty Mule’ can be reached at email@example.com.