Bill Little commentary: A matter of time
Every now and then, we are all reminded of how time flies. You look up, and suddenly it's October. You look back, and it seems only yesterday.
The first time Bill Sansing set foot in what is now Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, the planet was so very different. In fact, the 82-year-old stadium was less than 15 years old. The country was struggling to come out of a deep depression, and so was Texas football. That was almost 70 years ago.
Last Saturday, Sansing came back for a visit at a Longhorn football game, his first in 12 years. In both spans of time, so much has happened.
Sansing had served as a manager for the Longhorn basketball and track teams as a student. He had been sports editor of The Daily Texan. In 1941, he graduated from UT and joined the sports staff of the Fort Worth Star Telegram. But as with most young men of that day, his life took a dramatic turn on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor and World War II began.
Sansing entered the Army Air Corps, and served as a combat intelligence officer with the 15th Air Force in Italy. He entered the service as a private and was discharged as a major.
During his time as a student at Texas, he had seen the growth of football under D. X. Bible and basketball under Jack Gray. Over 60 years later, both are still regarded as two of the greatest mentors in Texas Longhorn history.
Bible knew of Sansing from his time as a student, but he further enamored himself in an incident that occurred in Italy in April, 1945.
The war in Italy was over, and the many former students of Texas A&M University who served as officers in the 49th Bomber Wing were eager to make a big celebration out of their annual Aggie Muster, which is always observed on April 21. Sansing's commanding general, W. L. Lee, and the operations officer, Robert Worden, asked Sansing to help plan the event. There were adozen Italian youngsters, aged 8 to 11, who worked around the base. So Sansing agreed to help involve them in the evening's festivities. Phonetically, since none of them spoke English, he taught them an American song. After hours of rehearsal, his "choir" was ready. Fifty-two officers filed into the hall, and waited as the little boys gathered. Three notes into "The Eyes of Texas"-- the song Sansing had taught the kids -- the officers chased Sansing out into a field where he hid in a haystack. p>
In November of 1945, Sansing received a letter from Bible.
The University of Texas had hired a new chief of its News Bureau, and Bible wrote to Sansing that there were plans to also create a second position.
"The University is anxious to give him some help and has asked if we would be interested in contributing at least two-thirds of the salary of his assistant and then have this man give at lest two-thirds of his time to our department....It is a question of how strong they will want to go...do they want to get a man with a lot of experience, or do they want a young man. Now, if it is a young man, I am very much interested in you. I remember our association with so much pleasure. I know you have the qualifications, and I assure you we would do everything we could to make your stay with us a pleasant one."
And so, 60 years ago, Bill Sansing started the first athletics public relations office in this part of the country, and became the first Sports Information Director at The University ofTexas. It was his 27th birthday, February 15, 1946, when he took the job, with the stipulation that it was not in the university PR office, but a full-time service answering to the athletics director.
Shortly before he left UT to embark on a highly successful advertising and public relations career in 1949, Sansing designed a first-class press box which sat atop the lower level of the west side of the stadium until the upper deck was constructed in 1970.
His new career took him to offices in New York and Chicago and Monterey, Mexico, and he didn't make his way back to Austin until 1970, when he partnered with Waco writer Dave Campbell to help expanded Campbell's popular Texas Football Magazine. He also expanded a relationship he had begun in the public relations business with a golfer whose image he had helped change during the 1960s, a young man named Jack Nicklaus.
In that role, he helped Nicklaus and others develop The Hills of Lakeway Golf Club, and many other ventures.
After he retired in the mid-1990s, Sansing moved with his wife Ruth Ann to San Antonio, and he hadn't been back to the stadium he first saw so very long ago until Saturday's Iowa State game.
The press box, which Sansing designed, was replaced in 1971 by a facility on the eighth floor of Bellmont Hall, and new renovations have made dramatic changes in the 25-year-old media area. Included in the changes are pictures of the former Longhorn Sports Information Directors who are in the Longhorn Hall of Honor, and that includes Sansing.
DeLoss Dodds took time to also show Sansing the ninth floor, where the expanded Carpenter-Winkel Centennial Room provides a state-of-the-art facility for donors to the Texas Longhorn Education Foundation.
Sansing had a reserved seat beside current UT Assistant Athletics Director of Media Relations John Bianco, who had even offered to send a car to San Antonio for Sansing to come to the Ohio State game, but because of family commitments, Bill couldn't arrange it. Saturday, Sansing's best moment still came as he stood on the photo deck as the Longhorn band made its entrance to the stadium, and tears welled in Sansing's eyes as the band played "The Eyes of Texas."
In 1986, when Sansing was chosen for induction into the Longhorn Hall of Honor, he received a letter of congratulations.
"You're my definition of "class"...one of the best friends I've ever had, one of the most kind and thoughtful people I've known, and one of the most loyal and dedicated colleagues I've had the pleasure to work with in all my years in business. They obviously think the same of you in Texas. Congratulations on being inducted into the Longhorn Hall of Honor. No one could deserve this more than you."
The letter came from Jack Nicklaus.
It is funny how time slips away. The last time Sansing was in the stadium, Texas football was in the midst of a tumultuous season that would end positively, ironically with a victory in the Sun Bowl over a North Carolina team coached by a young man named Mack Brown. In the game Sansing saw the Longhorns play last week with Iowa State, Mack Brown, who is now in his ninth year at Texas, tied Fred Akers as the second winningest coach in Texas Longhorn history.
The artificial turf is gone, and so are those days. Stadium suites, a mammoth high definition scoreboard, a football program that is rapidly becoming the team of the decade in the first decade of the 21st century are in place. In December, construction will begin on a new North End.
As he has with every head coach since he left Texas, Sansing makes a point to write a letter of support after a Longhornloss. When others are being negative, he will always remain the positive voice. For 21 games, he never wrote Mack Brown. This summer, Mack sent him a BCS National Championship watch from the Rose Bowl. Tuesday after the Longhorns' loss to Ohio State,Mack got a letter from Bill.
So much has changed, and yet, for a person like Bill Sansing, so much has not. When the band marches in, and when the young men in orange and white take the field, memories blend with moments. Emotion overwhelms logic.
And in that space, at 87 years old, Bill Sansing is reminded that the more things change, the more they remain the same.