An unnoticed run, an unlikely courier for Billy Cannon’s 1959 Heisman

GRACE UNDER PRESSURE: Shreveport native Kent Lowe was enshrined in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020, but that didn’t stress him nearly as much as what he experienced Wednesday.

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

The 1959 Heisman Trophy made a different kind of run Wednesday.

You’ll remember LSU’s Billy Cannon made his famous Halloween night run in 1959, going 89 yards. plowing past defenders on a punt return on a soggy field late in the game to lift the undefeated Tigers over arch-rival Ole Miss 7-3 in Tiger Stadium. That play went a long way toward Cannon winning the Heisman in its 25th anniversary year, which was commemorated in a very special way.

The 1959 Heisman is made of silver. It’s one of a kind.

And it’s sitting in Natchitoches this morning, at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame museum, as the 2022 Induction Celebration unfolds over the next three days. You can see it this evening for free at the LSHOF Welcome Reception from 5-7.

It made the 186-mile journey north not with a police escort, but secure in the possession of Shreveport native Kent Lowe, the senior associate director of athletic communications at LSU since August of 1988, and a LSHOF inductee in the Class of 2020.

The 1975 Mr. Loyola Flyer made the most pressure-packed trip of his life Wednesday. He started at TJ Ribs restaurant on Acadian Thruway, a couple of football fields away from I-10. It’s where Cannon’s Heisman has been in a glass case for all but a few weeks since the late 1980s, so hordes of fans could enjoy it and a great meal. Dr. Cannon (he was a dentist) wanted to share it with Tiger fans.

Conversations over the past few months between LSHOF Foundation CEO Ronnie Rantz and Bunnie Cannon, the LSU-proud daughter of Dr. Cannon, ultimately led to Wednesday’s under-the-radar mission.

How do the folks at TJ Ribs wrap their to-go orders?

Cannon’s Heisman got treated like the best cut leaving the house.

Wrapped snugly in butcher’s paper.

They don’t have blankets or bubble-filled crates at TJ’s. And there was no case provided in 1959, or to recent winners for that matter, by the Heisman folks to haul the trophy back home from New York City. In fact, there’s a prized photo of Cannon cradling the trophy with his wife Dot after landing at the Baton Rouge airport in December 1959.

Just before lunch Wednesday, after a bit of confusion – “I think the management at TJ’s looked at me and said, ‘WHAT? This guy?’,” said Lowe – the bolts were loosened on the glass display case, and Cannon’s Heisman was on the move.

It was carefully carried through the doors, for what is thought to be the first time this millennium, into the parking lot and belted into the back right seat of Lowe’s 2021 Mazda CX-5.

It immediately became the most priceless passenger he’s ever had.

Unless you count driving a rental car with Dale Brown in the back seat on the way to an NCAA Tournament media session.

That was not stressful. This was.

“Every time I made a turn, I’d hear something sliding around and I had to look back and check on it,” said Lowe. “It was sitting there, in the seat belt, and hadn’t moved an inch. I finally realized I had boxes in my trunk and they were making the noise.”

When he pulled up a little more than three hours later at 800 Front Street in Natchitoches, Lowe was proud, and relieved.

“I kept imagining the headlines: ‘Cannon’s Heisman takes a wrong turn on I-49’ or ‘Lowe point for Billy Cannon’s Heisman,’ “ he chuckled.

Museum director Jennae Biddiscombe and staff ended his suspense, rolling a cart out to his car, carefully extracting the trophy, then taking the elevator to a case waiting on the second floor right next to the LSU Sports exhibit. In a nice bit of symmetry, it will rest just a couple of yards away from where Cannon sat for eight hours on a winter afternoon, warmly inscribing copies of his 2015 autobiography, “A Long, Long Run” for hundreds who formed a line snaking through the 27,500-square feet of the museum and for a while, out the door. Eight hours. Was scheduled for three. But he was determined everybody would get what they came for.

Why has the Heisman made a move now? It’s a happy coincidence that five of the LSHOF Class of 2022 are former LSU athletes, which Dr. Cannon would love, and his family certainly appreciates.

But it’s actually a sneak preview, at the peak time of the year for the Hall of Fame. Later this summer, sometime before football kicks off, the LSHOF museum will debut a new Heisman Trophy exhibit, with memorabilia from Cannon, Springhill native John David Crow (1957, Texas A&M), instant LSU icon Joe Burrow (2019), and Amite native DeVonta Smith (2020, Alabama).

Cannon’s Heisman will periodically be on display at the museum, courtesy of the Cannon Trust, which is administered by the family.

It’s heading back to its familiar spot at TJ Ribs Sunday, but will return for the opening of the new exhibit, and will be in Natchitoches for every Induction Celebration from now on.

Who do you trust to carry it back home? How about the man who carried the mail for the 2003 Tigers, starring in their SEC Championship Game victory and the National Championship game triumph over Oklahoma?

Justin Vincent is coming in to cheer on his former Tiger teammate, Class of ’22 inductee Kyle Williams, this weekend. The former star LSU running back won’t tuck the Heisman under his arm, but he’ll cruise back to BR and visit TJ Ribs with a very special package.

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Photo by CHRIS REICH, Northwestern State