Billy Cannon, The “Chinese Bandits” And LSU’s Year Of Glory

Considering all the great teams Louisiana State has fielded throughout the years, national championships at LSU have been sadly spread out.

From their first crown in 1908, it was to be 50 long years before the Tigers stepped forth with their second and last perfect season to capture that prized No. 1 ranking. And from there it was to be another 49 seasons before Matt Flynn and Glenn Dorsey brought home the BCS crown with an easy win over Ohio State in the deciding game of the season.

But while all glory and honors go to those 1908 and 2007 champs, Paul Dietzel’s eleven of 1958 still has to be considered LSU’s finest.

Led by All-American Billy Cannon and a ferocious “third string” defensive platoon named the “Chinese Bandits” that allowed barely over five points a game, the Tigers roared through their regular season schedule with a perfect 10-0 mark, with only Florida and Mississippi State causing them to break out in a bit of a sweat.

The highlight game of the year was a 14-0 whitewashing of previously unbeaten and No. 6-ranked Ole Miss before a screaming nighttime crowd of 68,000 at Tiger Stadium — its first sellout ever, with an entire section filled with fans whose tickets were personally bought by Baton Rouge native Billy Cannon. By the time it was all over, the Tigers had solidified their # 1 ranking, and after a narrow escape in Jackson against Mississippi State and a 62-0 crushing of Tulane, it was off to New Orleans for a Sugar Bowl date against Clemson to wrap up a perfect season.

Not that the two to three touchdown underdog “other” Tiger squad was exactly a slouch, and in fact they actually outgained their Baton Rouge cousins in total yardage for the day. But a botched third quarter punt attempt gave Dietzel’s crew a first down on the Clemson 11-yard line, and on third down Cannon connected with a 10-yard pass to freshman Mickey Mangham for the only score of the day.

Cannon was named the MVP of the game, and next year would go on to win the Heisman Trophy and become the first draft pick ever in the newly -ormed American Football League, chosen as a territorial choice by the Houston Oilers before the first round even got under way. It was a fitting tribute to one of the greatest legends ever to wear the white, gold and purple, and to a Tiger team that to this day was the last one never to taste defeat.

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