Bill Little commentary: The littlest Longhorn
You could make a case that Rooster Andrews touched more people, with the things that he did and with his heart, than anybody in the history of Texas Longhorns athletics.
When we re-dedicated Texas Memorial Stadium to include Rooster's great friend Darrell Royal's name, I remember ABC's Keith Jackson talking about a large farm pond, where a stone was thrown into the center. The ripples rolled across the placid water, farther and farther, until they touched every inch of shoreline.
Rooster Andrews was that rock.
He stood only about five feet tall, but to all who knew him, he was a giant of a man.
He came to The University of Texas in the fall of 1941, and he immediately became a part of Texas athletics. He worked as a student manager for the football and baseball team, and his reputation grew quickly. Soon, he was working all-star games and developing friendships far beyond the Texas campus.
His nickname came from an incident his freshman year, when Billy Andrews was called on to scramble to the top of a Hickory tree and retrieve a rooster which some teammates were taking to Bastrop. Little Billy, they determined, was the only guy small enough to reach the farthest branches and grab the rooster. So up the freshman went, to the top of the tree. When he seized his prize, the rooster began to peck, and Billy Andrews fell from the tree, breaking his arm as he hit the ground. But he never let go of Elmer, the rooster.
"You're the papa of the Rooster," proclaimed a teammate, and from that moment on, Billy Andrews would forever be known as Rooster.
The great stories of Rooster and his friend, Bobby Layne paint a picture of a time that has passed, when college life was transitioning from a time of war to a post-war freedom that spanned both innocence and mischief.
And then, when he worked in the sporting goods business, he began to reach countless high schools, their coaches and their kids. Shoes? See Rooster. Uniforms for the all-too-soon game that you forgot to order on time? Call Rooster. Budget a little shy? Talk to Rooster.
Fact is, he probably gave away more money than he ever made.
He was part of a generation that built the foundation of Texas athletics, and a generation that was bed-rocked in integrity and generosity.
For more than 50 years, every legend that existed at The University of Texas, from D.X. Bible to Mack Brown, walked through the doors of Rooster Andrews Sporting Goods. And so did the little kids who needed a ball glove, or a cool new pair of sneakers.
And while he touched so many high schools and colleges throughout the state in the days before the corporations took over the sporting goods business, it was at The University of Texas that he was most at home.
No event, no banquet or gathering, ever closed without Rooster, his tiny frame bursting with pride, having led the group in the singing of the Eyes of Texas. He might not be in the right key, and he didn't have the baritone voice of the ages, but it didn't matter. He sang from his heart. It came out through his eyes.
Astronauts, governors, senators, presidents, and of course, the greatest stars in sports, knew Rooster Andrews. And they loved him, because he loved them.
For awhile, we have known this day would come. The little body that had carried him for so long was simply wearing out, and Monday, that heart that had kept fighting for several years finally decided it was time to rest. He was 84 years old.
Lord help those in the Great Beyond, because old friends and Longhorn greats Rooster, Bobby Layne, Mal Kutner, Hub Bechtol, Mike Campbell, Bibb Falk, Wally Scott and Don Weedon and all of those who have gone before him are now back together again. There will be stories, both large and small, that will be swapped, moments remembered and friendships renewed.
A year and a half ago, when I signed the contract to produce the book, "What It Means To Be A Longhorn," the first thing I did was call B. J. Andrews, Rooster's wife, and set up a time to talk with him. He was struggling even then, searching for the right words, his little body stiffening as he tried to tell his story of how he came to Texas, and to describe his most memorable moments.
When the news came Monday that we had "lost" Rooster, I thought about that visit. And I realized that the phrase just didn't fit. Because of who he was, what he did, and how he touched us all, we will never "lose" Rooster Andrews.
The sadness we will feel will be for those who never had a chance to know him. The joy will be for those of us who were lucky enough to be there when he passed our way.
The final paragraph in Rooster's chapter in the book not only gives us perspective, it really defines Rooster's life. In his own words:
"All of those are memories of when I was at Texas, and then through the sporting goods business, I was able to maintain a close relationship with so many of the people. I guess that is the best answer to the question of "what it means to be a Longhorn." It is about friends and relationships. And if you ask me what that meant to me, it's everything."