When I was a little kid, my dad used to tell me about the greatness of Billy Cannon and the 1958 team. He would lower his voice and talk about the fog that rolled into Tiger Stadium one autumn night, and Billy ran through the Ole Miss team all by himself.
Cannon was so great that he delivered a national title to LSU, all by himself it seemed. Sure, there were other players, even other great players, but it was Billy Cannon who lifted LSU into the rarified air of the true blue bloods in college football.
It was like a dream. A dream that he lived through, and was only real for me because of the legends and stories that our parents and aunts and uncles passed down to us. And the problem with dreams is that you have to wake up.
LSU was always close but never close enough. There would be great teams, but there would never be another 1958. There would never be another Billy Cannon.
Even when LSU football rose from the Dark Ages to become a great program again, it still didn’t have that singular player, that Legend that I would pass on to my kids, making my own dream come true, and waiting for theirs to be fulfilled.
Every story, every moment, every little thing with LSU football always came with a “but.” LSU won two national titles in my lifetime, but they did not go unbeaten. We have had great players, legendary players, Hall of Fame players, but none of them made that final stage in New York City.
It’s silly, because the Heisman is just another award, and who really cares, right? The Heisman voters are a bunch of writers, and former winners, who have no more ability to bestow legendary status as you and I do. I know that’s the truth.
But it’s not the Truth. The Truth is, LSU needs that legend. It needs that validation, because the Heisman is a thing which stretches back to the olden days of football, back when they still played the games in black and white. It’s an award that connects the modern to the past and it looks forward to the future. People look back on the list of Heisman winners as emblematic players of that era. They become legends much like people become saints… first, you have to go through some bureaucracy and red tape.
However, the Heisman voting doesn’t make Joe Burrow a legend, it reveals the legend. It provides a coda to the story, but it is not the story itself. Joe Burrow was already a legend, he was already great before 8:00 this evening, but now no one can deny it. It’s written down for the future generations, just as Billy Cannon was written down for me.
The Heisman has been a symbol of the college football establishment, and just how far away we have been from it, even as we pressed our faces against the glass. LSU has not had an offensive player finish top five in the Heisman voting since Charles Alexander in 1978, and has not ever had one be a Heisman finalist. Tyrann Mathieu was a Heisman finalist as a defensive back in 2011, but defensive players never win, so the reward was simply getting an invite.
Here we are in the Golden Age of LSU Football History, and we haven’t had a viable Heisman candidate since 1978. It hasn’t been for lack of great players, it has to do with LSU only having one foot in the door of the high halls of the football establishment.
Joe Burrow kicks those doors open. It is his canonization in the sainthood of college football, but it is also an honor for LSU and us, the fans. It is the college football establishment finally admitting that LSU is a blue blood, that it is one of the club.
We can breathe in that rarified air, and there is still hopefully a few more chapters to write for the legacy of the 2019 team, but we are no longer waiting for the other shoe to drop. We aren’t looking for the dark cloud attached to that silver lining.
As my kids grow up, I’m going to regale them of stories of the good ole days and the greatest player in LSU history, Joe Burrow. We’ll talk in whispers, so as not to ruin the magic, and wait for the day that someone else comes along to take Burrow’s place in the pantheon.
Until then, this is the legend. This is the thing we’ll romanticize and talk about forever. This is Cannon’s Halloween run, it is Bert Jones needed two seconds, it is Alexander the Great, it is oranges raining down against Florida St, it is Rohan to Reed again and again, it is the Honey Badger making the goal line wherever he says it is.
This is the magic. This is the legendary moment. This is the story that will never grow old. A kid came from Ohio and didn’t just become one of us, he became the greatest of us. For right now, Louisiana is the center of the college football world.
Time will not dim his legend. Joe Burrow is the 2019 Heisman Trophy winner. Finally, our generation has our own Billy Cannon.