Mike Strange: Debate about 'The Stop' never stops

Mike Strange
Jesse Smithey/News Sentinel
Billy Cannon, top, speaks during the Knoxville Quarterback Club meeting Monday at Calhoun's on the River while Charles Severance, seated, listens.

Jesse Smithey/News Sentinel Billy Cannon, top, speaks during the Knoxville Quarterback Club meeting Monday at Calhoun's on the River while Charles Severance, seated, listens.

We will never know for sure. But that doesn't mean they don't know for sure.

"He did not cross the goal line,'' Wayne Grubb said Monday with finality.

"He didn't get across,'' confirmed Charles Severance, shaking his head.

Wait a minute.

Billy Cannon, if there was a replay camera at Shields-Watkins Field on Nov. 7, 1959, what would it show?

"Me going in, then coming back. Without a doubt.''

Pause. Smile. "In my mind.''

Cannon hasn't changed his mind in the nearly 52 years since the famous two-point conversion play went down.

In Tennessee, it's known simply as The Stop.

An underdog Tennessee team upset No. 1 LSU that afternoon, 14-13, by denying Cannon, the 1959 Heisman Trophy winner, on a two-point conversion run in the fourth quarter.

The principles in The Stop reunited Monday when Cannon, 74, came to speak to the Knoxville Quarterback Club. He regaled a crowd at Calhoun's, Neyland Stadium — as the scene of the crime is called these days — visible out the window.

While Cannon talked, grainy footage of LSU's touchdown and ensuing conversion played over and over on TV monitors over his shoulder. I watched it probably a dozen times.

LSU scores a touchdown to cut UT's lead to 14-13. The reigning national champs line up for the conversion to keep the title defense hopes alive.

Cannon is to the left, takes a handoff moving to his right and turns toward the goal line. He's met by Tennessee defenders, Severance high and Grubb low. Bill Majors also gets a piece. They go down at the goal line.

"I got that good lick on him,'' Severance said, "like a baseball bat. Wayne hit him down there around his feet.

"We hit him about the same time and drove him back. Majors came in just a little bit.''

The officials do not raise their hands to signal the conversion is good. The camera cuts to the scoreboard, showing it's still 14-13.

Sports Illustrated ran a photo of The Stop the following week. Bottom line, it's impossible to tell if the ball broke the plane of the goal line. Both sides can safely stick to their stories.

"We didn't play as well as I thought we could have,'' said Cannon. "Taking nothing away from Tennessee. They were a great little team that day.''

The Stop came exactly one week after Cannon's

most famous play, the 89-yard punt return on Halloween to beat Ole Miss 7-3.

The Vols, who had started the season with promise, didn't stop anyone else. They were outscored 71-7 in their three remaining games and finished 5-4-1.

Cannon was a physical marvel. He was the No. 1 draft pick who played 11 years in the AFL and NFL. During his offseasons he studied to become a dentist at the UT Med School in Memphis.

The College Football Hall of Fame elected him in 1983, then rescinded the honor when he went to prison for counterfeiting. He was re-elected in 2008.

Severance has gotten considerable mileage out of The Stop, attending several media events in Baton Rouge. He introduced Cannon on Monday, the old warriors clearly glad to see each other.

By now, it really doesn't matter if the officials got the call right in 1959.

But the events of that day do raise a relevant point.

LSU is coming to town Saturday, again ranked No. 1. The Vols again are a heavy underdog.

"That was a big disappointment for us,'' Cannon said, looking back over the decades. "We didn't play our 'A' game.

"In the Southeastern Conference you better play your 'A' game every day.''

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 29

TommyJack writes:

I saw it on my radio in Chatty. Never crossed the goal line. :)

vol64 writes:

I was a freshman at UT, sitting on the east side of Neyland about 2/3 up on the 40 yard line when this play was run. All we(in the student section) saw was a plie of bodies and no 2 points added on the score board. A lot of beer was consumed on Cumberland Ave. that night and I drank my share. GBO. Do it to LSU again!

jawbreaker writes:

I guess being a sports legend trumps being a convicted felon.

HallowedHill writes:

in response to MerlOT_GoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

These is always a chance. It may be slim, but that's why they play the game.

GO VOLS!

tennrich1 writes:

in response to MerlOT_GoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

That's the spirit!!!!!

pvvol writes:

in response to jawbreaker:

I guess being a sports legend trumps being a convicted felon.

The story I read was a sports story. A pretty good sports story. I didn't see or read anything about a crime or a subsequent conviction. This story was about a part of Tennessee Football history. I don't think the writer had the time, or really cared for that matter, to write about the criminal conviction of Billy Cannon. I think you can find that story on another website somewhere.

pvvol writes:

in response to Whatthehellsgoingonoutthere:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I think he was referring to our chances in the game this weekend.

jdcdjc writes:

in response to vol64:

I was a freshman at UT, sitting on the east side of Neyland about 2/3 up on the 40 yard line when this play was run. All we(in the student section) saw was a plie of bodies and no 2 points added on the score board. A lot of beer was consumed on Cumberland Ave. that night and I drank my share. GBO. Do it to LSU again!

I thought I had the worse seat in the stadium that day, it was on the goal line. I remember it sooo well, he didn't appear to get in, just like he hit a brick wall. The feeling was great!!! The Vols were ready that day. No plays off, they played a full game.

shipperman#280095 writes:

Gonna be a long October fellow VOL fans

Volunatic writes:

in response to pvvol:

The story I read was a sports story. A pretty good sports story. I didn't see or read anything about a crime or a subsequent conviction. This story was about a part of Tennessee Football history. I don't think the writer had the time, or really cared for that matter, to write about the criminal conviction of Billy Cannon. I think you can find that story on another website somewhere.

"The College Football Hall of Fame elected him in 1983, then rescinded the honor when he went to prison for counterfeiting. He was re-elected in 2008."

Volfan51 writes:

in response to TommyJack:

I saw it on my radio in Chatty. Never crossed the goal line. :)

Funny....bet you have a bird's eye view to!!

The_Ghost_of_Duke_DeLuca writes:

I was a 9 year old boy listening on the radio in my uncle's country store. I remember the moment vividly.

Thank goodness we didn't have cameras to review the play back then. The refs would still be trying to make up their minds 52 years later.

The_Ghost_of_Duke_DeLuca writes:

in response to pvvol:

The story I read was a sports story. A pretty good sports story. I didn't see or read anything about a crime or a subsequent conviction. This story was about a part of Tennessee Football history. I don't think the writer had the time, or really cared for that matter, to write about the criminal conviction of Billy Cannon. I think you can find that story on another website somewhere.

Agreed. It was a long, long time ago. Bygones.

abnermc writes:

So that's why they stole the game last year.

shoelessvol#236864 writes:

As we are often taught, history has a way of repeating itself. Can it happen again? Sure it can! You don't always have to be the most talented or the #1 team in the national to win...you just have to be the best team on the field on that day! Maybe, just maybe history can have a repeat lesson some 52 years later! GO VOLS!!

TheRealDragonSlayer writes:

Let me ask all the naysayers this. How many people had Wyoming beating Tennessee in Knoxville? How many people thought Mississippi State could beat a Tebow-led Gator team in the Swamp? Who could have seen Appalachian State beating Michigan?

Games are played for a reason. On any given day, teams can come up with enough to upset a favored opponent. LSU is coming to our stadium...we gave them a game in their house last year, so I dont expect anything less than a tough game this year. All I want to see is 4 wuaarters of all-out tough football from our guys...the result is irrelevant.

TheRealDragonSlayer writes:

I know, I know, there are going to be a slew of posts whining about why I am using those teams as an example when it is TENNESSEE we are talking about. The answer is simple. We are without our starting QB, RB, and WR. We are in the SEC. We are playing against the #1 team in the country. All that adds up to the situation being comparable to the ones I mentioned.

factor writes:

I was FOUR and he didn't SCORE........

ect1983 writes:

The first game my Dad ever took me to.....I got an LSU pennant, the great felt pennants they dont make anymore (the second in a collection of 80 or so that my Mom threw out in a move somewhere). So guess what happens 40 plus years later :....two of my 3 kids went to and graduated from LSU !

PS In re Billy Cannon and a felony....he made a mistake, he payed for it (dearly), and has been taking care of prisoner's teeth in Angola Prison for years. I'm sure the poster up above is perfect.

VOODOOley-2011 (Inactive) writes:

I was in the north end zone wooden bleachers at age 4 with my Dad, I can honestly say I barely remember the play. The Cokes and hotdogs were good though.

DalTexVol writes:

in response to factor:

I was FOUR and he didn't SCORE........

I was a month away from being TWO and even I knew he didn't score.

cooper65#432178 writes:

in response to The_Ghost_of_Duke_DeLuca:

I was a 9 year old boy listening on the radio in my uncle's country store. I remember the moment vividly.

Thank goodness we didn't have cameras to review the play back then. The refs would still be trying to make up their minds 52 years later.

There is no way refs can accurately spot the ball, particularly when there is a pile of bodies. I thought we were the victim of a few bad spots (if only by inches) early in the GA game when we were inches short of a first down. It seems like laser technology could be used to get a perfect spot. I get a kick when I see a line judge coming into a mass of humanity and put his foot down like he really knows where the ball is or even better where the ball was when the runner went down. It's a joke.

txsvol#372416 writes:

That was the first UT football game I ever saw in person, and my dad bought scalpers tickets, just after kickoff, four for $40, between the north end zone and end of the end zone, in section XX, down low. Cannon was hit by three UT players, and while his helmet crossed the goal line, the ball was six inches short. Poor coaching by Pepsodent Paul Dietzel, which resulted in a memorable quote from a nearby drunk: "LSU has it's Cannon, but the Cannon wasn't loaded!" (At least, not as much as the drunk.) Go Vols! Deja vu the # 1 Tigers one more time! SAVol

tulelakevol writes:

I wasn't even born and he did not get across ;)

johnlg00 writes:

I was in junior high then, ushering for the football games. That was the ONLY game I missed that year. I had a fever of about 105 and my Mom wouldn't let me go. As I recall, it was pretty cold that day. From the radio feed, it didn't sound like he got in(;-P)!

Theo writes:

in response to BolivarBob:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Best post of the day.
Go Vols!

volfan#207874 writes:

I was 28 years old and I still don't know if he got the ball across the goal line or not. Have watched the play several dozen times and still am not able to declare either way. That old pigskin takes some might peculiar bounces. Sure there is hope and a chance that history can repeat itself and we emerge victorious, In 1959 we beat L.S.U.,the #1 team in the country. A scant year before A.C. "Scrappy" Moore brought his Moccasins from Chattanooga and beat the Vols on Shields-Watkins turf to the tune of 14-6. Strange things happen when you play the game of football! GBO

UTVOL2001 writes:

My prediction: If the good Lord allows this earth to still be here on Saturday, we will play LSU in Knoxville. Oh, and I will be pulling for the Vols! Fight ON!

snakeplissken writes:

in response to TheRealDragonSlayer:

Let me ask all the naysayers this. How many people had Wyoming beating Tennessee in Knoxville? How many people thought Mississippi State could beat a Tebow-led Gator team in the Swamp? Who could have seen Appalachian State beating Michigan?

Games are played for a reason. On any given day, teams can come up with enough to upset a favored opponent. LSU is coming to our stadium...we gave them a game in their house last year, so I dont expect anything less than a tough game this year. All I want to see is 4 wuaarters of all-out tough football from our guys...the result is irrelevant.

As much as I'd like to see us upset LSU, it won't happen. They have better players and better coaching.

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