Billy Cannon — Legendary Heisman Trophy Winner, Civic Leader and friend of TJ Ribs
– shared by Burke Moran, owner
As a life-long LSU fan who grew up in Baton Rouge, I remember as a kid hearing about the Heisman Trophy and Billy Cannon—both synonymous with LSU football. Every year around Halloween, local TV stations would play the infamous Billy Cannon punt return for a touchdown against Ole Miss back in 1959. As a youth, I never understood the magnitude of the Heisman because in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s college football was all about Michigan, Notre Dame, and USC. Little did I know, LSU had two Heisman candidates during that time: Charles Alexendar and Tommy Hodson.
Several years went by, and by the early 90’s the LSU athletic program was producing Final Four basketball teams, National Championship track and baseball teams, and Bowl-bound football teams, but never any award winning players.
By the mid-80’s, I was old enough to meet the larger-than-life Billy Cannon at TJ Ribs. Billy, his wife Dot, and other family members were supporters of the upstart ribs restaurant on Highland Road. It was like the parting of The Red Sea when he would walk in the door at TJ Ribs, not because everyone wanted to get out of his way but because fans would line up to shake his hand. Everyone in Baton Rouge had a favorite Billy Cannon story to tell back then. My connection was the opening of TJ Ribs, seeing the Heisman Trophy for the first time, and watching Billy’s son Billy Jr. break football records at Broadmoor High in the early 80’s.
MY BEST BILLY CANNON STORY happened In July of 1989. My father, Billy Cannon and I flew to Houston, Texas to eat at a Mexican restaurant Mr. Cannon spoke highly of from his playing days with the Houston Oilers. With my father’s interest in the restaurant business, Billy knew my father was one of the few people who could bring the creator of Tex-Mex food from Houston to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Billy introduced the Lorenzos to T.J. and Ninfa’s Mexican restaurant was opened in Baton Rouge on October 16, 1993. Billy Cannon deserves all the credit for forging this relationship and helping convince T.J. to open Ninfa’s. This is just one of the many positive impacts Billy Cannon has had on our city over the past 50 years—just another reason why I am honored to see Billy’s Heisman Trophy at TJ Ribs.
Billy Cannon’s Heisman Trophy, the only one made of silver, has seen a lot in the 50 years since being casted. Since the inception of TJ Ribs, Billy’s Heisman has seen its fair share of history—from fires to major business deals being done, local politicians being selected, a generation a half of LSU college graduates, and many championship teams. Mr. Cannon’s Heisman has inspired generations of athletes who have aspired to win such an award and achieve greatness.
Over the years the Heisman Trophy has kept its prestige and adhered to a mission of awarding excellence and integrity in college football. The LSU football program has also set its standards of excellence high and is now mentioned before the Michigan’s, the Notre Dame’s and the USC’s in terms of excellence in college football. I want to applaud our hometown hero, Billy Cannon, for his unwavering support and his decision to leave his prized possession inside our restaurant to help inspire the next generation.