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Billy Pickard: An Aggie Football Legend Who Never Played A Down

Scot Walker '90 November 21, 2013 3:23 PM

By Lane B. Stephenson ’77

More than anyone, he has seen both the glory and gory days of Aggie football—he being Billy Pickard ’56, whose service to the team goes back more than 60 years and who was with Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and the “Junction Boys” when they endured the infamous West Texas training camp prior to the 1954 season.

Pickard’s affiliation with Texas A&M football goes back more than half the time the Aggies have been playing the game. That dates back to 1894 when the Aggies squeaked by, 14-6, against Galveston’s Ball High School.

Pickard objects to being called a “legend” but he can’t get around the fact he’s been around Aggieland and Aggie football far longer than anyone else—and is still around and helping out.

Few people in Aggie history have logged more time in service to the institution—athletically or otherwise—and Pickard is still going.
“It’s a privilege, especially at my age [80], to be able to continue to be part of the team,” Pickard says, adding he’s extremely grateful to Coach Kevin Sumlin for that opportunity. “I even have the opportunity to speak to the team every Friday before the game the next day.”

Pickard signed on as a student trainer for the team during his freshman in 1952. In the ensuing years, except for a brief time during which he was an athletic trainer at two Texas Gulf Coast high schools, he has served in increasingly responsible positions with the football team, beginning as head trainer in 1965 at the behest of Gene Stallings ’57, who was then the Aggies’ newly named head football coach and athletic director and whose acquaintance with Pickard dated back to Junction.

Subsequently, at the request of the late Coach Emory Bellard, Pickard assumed additional duties that included serving as equipment manager. When another of the Junction Boys, Marvin Tate ’55, became athletic director, Pickard took on still more responsibilities. Later, when Jackie Sherrill became head football coach and athletic director, Pickard was named an assistant athletic director with broadened responsibilities. When John David Crow ’58, another legendary player under Coach Bryant and Texas A&M’s first Heisman Trophy winner, became athletic director and R. C. Slocum head coach, Pickard continued as an assistant director and was promoted to associate director when Wally Groff ’64 became athletic director. Pickard’s climb up the ladder culminated in his appointment as senior associate athletic director for facilities.

Along the way, Pickard even doubled briefly as the team’s strength-training coach—back in the days when DeWare Field House included an ill-equipped dungeon that served as a weight room.

In making it possible for Pickard to return to Aggieland, Coach Stallings could have had no way of knowing he was being instrumental in starting a legendary career, Pickard’s denial notwithstanding. Their Junction experiences certainly provided for some shared reflections even though their roles were different, with Stallings among the players getting banged up on the hard-scrabble field and Pickard helping patch them up and getting them back out there.

Asked if he had any particularly memorable or funny stories to tell about Pickard from their shared Junction experience, Stallings replied: “I can’t think of anything funny that happened at Junction,” adding, “we just survived.” The grueling experience was famously summed up in a quote attributed long ago to Stallings: “We went over in two buses and came back in one.”

He sums up his assessment of Pickard by harkening back to hiring him: “If I were doing it over, I’d hire him again,” leaving no doubt that he considers him a great friend and a great trainer. “I knew what type of person he was, and I knew his skills.” Stallings even fondly recalls how well Pickard taped his ankles during his playing days.

Pickard formally retired in 2009 but that hasn’t deterred him from showing up on campus at 6 a.m. most days and continuing to take a big interest in how things are done at Kyle Field, according to Rusty Burson, who included Pickard as one of the features in his new book, 100 Things Texas A&M Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die.

Pickard gained a certain amount of non-football notoriety when he expressed his opinion in 1999 to then President Ray Bowen ’58 regarding what he thought about plans to build a pedestrian passageway beneath Wellborn Road and the railroad tracks near the northwest corner of Kyle Field. To put it diplomatically, he didn’t think it was a good idea. Pickard later admitted to Bowen it was a grand idea and he uses the facility almost daily as part of his run/walk from Kyle Field over to the West Campus and back. What he initially bad-mouthed is now formally designated “Pickard’s Passageway” – so noted for posterity with a bronze plaque at the site.

The passageway episode wasn’t the first time Pickard was pictured as less than Mr. Congeniality. “According to most honest assessments, Billy Pickard has essentially been a cantankerous old man since he was a young man,” Burson notes in his new book, quickly adding: “But even though he has often been volatile through the years, Pickard’s heart is filled with pure love for Texas A&M and Kyle Field.”

Slocum is lavish in his praise: “Billy Pickard is an amazing guy who has spent his adult life in the service of Texas A&M athletics. Over his long career, he has performed so many different jobs, including trainer, equipment manager, strength coach, counselor and so many more. I know of no one who has been more dedicated to A&M athletes.”

Fashion, however, is not Pickard’s strong suit, according to Slocum, who took corrective matters into his own helpful hand back in his coaching days. He explains: “With his busy schedule, Billy rarely had time to keep up with fashion. At one point, my coaches and I physically removed his outdated double-knit pants and white plastic belt and burned them in from of him. We replaced them with new khakis and a leather belt.” Left unsaid was Pickard’s reaction to the unrequested wardrobe assistance.

Jackie Sherrill, who coached the Aggies and served as director of athletics from 1982 to 1988, says, “There’s no question that Billy Pickard is one of the all-time icons of A&M athletics.” Sherrill notes Pickard has touched many lives—touched and protected the players, adding he was “awful tough on the players—and made them better players.”

Sherrill recounted an encounter with Pickard shortly after he—Sherrill—arrived on campus. The coach took exception to the Aggie Band practicing on Kyle Field. Specifically, he was miffed because the band members, with their precision moves at precisely the same spots during their practices, were obliterating the lines and markers on the field. Sherrill recalls he told Pickard to tell Col. Joe Haney ’48, then director of the band, that the band could no long practice on Kyle Field. Pickard strongly suggested that wasn’t a good idea. Sherrill told Pickard that if he wasn’t up to task, he [Sherrill] would do it himself. They both went to the next band practice, with Sherrill fully intending to give Col. Haney his eviction notice as soon as practice was over. Instead, Sherrill says he turned and walked away. Pickard asked him why he didn’t follow through. Sherrill’s response: “When we become as good as they are, we’ll win the national championship.”

Pickard has seen lots of change in football over his six decades as part of the game. When asked what’s been the biggest change, he’s quick to say it’s the size and the speed of the players.

“When we went to Junction, only Jack Pardee [Class of ’57 and Texas A&M’s first All-American football player] weighed more than 200 pounds,” he recalls. “Today, the average lineman is over 300 pounds.”

How does he compare the 2013 Aggies with those of earlier teams? His answer is basically the same as the changes in football overall—but with one addition. “It’s size and speed—and one player.”

The “one player,” not surprisingly, is none other than Johnny Manziel ’15. Pickard, who has observed up close literally thousands of football players, Aggies and others, says Manziel is the most amazing player he’s ever seen.

“I’ve been in football all my life and I’ve never seen anybody like Johnny,” he marvels. Among Manziel’s many attributes, certainly including track-star speed and elusiveness, Pickard marvels at the fact he can do it all in size 15 shoes.

What game stands out most in Pickard’s mind? That would be the Aggies’ 10-7 win over the Longhorns in 1967, with the Aggies wrapping up the Southwest Conference championship and beating Alabama, coached by Bear Bryant, in the Cotton Bowl.

His most disheartening moment? That would be when he went on to the field in 1984 to attend to quarterback Kevin Murray after he suffered a gruesome season-ending injury in a home game against Arkansas State. “He was headed in one direction and his ankle was headed the other way.”

To ask Pickard who his all-time favorite Aggie coach is would have been unfair and probably would have prompted a “none of your business” growl, but he leaves no doubt that he holds Sumlin in high regard. In addition to his coaching abilities, Pickard is mightily impressed by Sumlin’s seemingly always positive demeanor. “It’s amazing how he always is in a happy mood. I guess he’s not always happy, but I’ve never seen him when he wasn’t.”

As for the Aggies’ glory and gory days, Pickard leaves little doubt that this season and last definitely fall in the “glory” category, and he sees the good times continuing.

In all likelihood, he’ll continue to have a good and up-close and personal view as he prowls the Aggies sideline—just as he has done for the best part of the past six decades.

Lane Stephenson is Texas Aggie’s Archives columnist and the director of News & Information Services for Texas A&M’s Division of Marketing & Communications.

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