Bill Little always longed to come home.
Not to Winters, Texas, his dusty West Texas hometown south of Abilene, but back to Austin and his beloved alma mater.
And so during the end of a short stint as sports editor of the Associated Press Bureau in Oklahoma City, he figured he’d address that longing. He noticed an opening in public relations at the University of Texas and telephoned Darrell Royal and told the legendary head football coach he’d like to return.
Royal basically asked one question: How fast could he get to Austin?
So at age 26, Little packed his bags and returned to Austin where he had once worked for The Daily Texan school newspaper, volunteered at the sports information office as a student and then covered high school football for $50 a month at the Austin American-Statesman. The move allowed him to continue a life-long and unabated love affair.
In March of 1968, he became an understudy to the iconic Jones Ramsey in the sports information department and would work at a job he loved for 47 football seasons, serving five head football coaches, five head basketball coaches and two baseball coaches during that span. He has been inducted into the Longhorn Hall of Honor, the CoSIDA Hall of Fame and the Big Country Athletic Hall of Fame in Abilene and won numerous awards for his writing.
He broadcast more than 1,700 baseball games, took in 527 consecutive football games and didn’t miss one until this season’s football game against UCLA in the second week in September after he’d worked the season-opener as the public-address announcer. He officially retired at the end of August.
“My wife, Kim, and I sat down after DeLoss (Dodds) and Mack (Brown) left,” Little said, referring to the long-time, highly regarded Longhorn athletic director and head football coach. “I turned 72 in March, and it just seemed the right time with a new staff coming in. So I stepped away.”
For his highly regarded career and deep involvement in the lives of so many athletes, coaches, sportswriters and fans, Little touched a lot of lives and is being honored as the second winner of the FWAA’s Lifetime Achievement Award and will be celebrated at the annual FWAA Annual Awards Breakfast Jan. 13 at the media hotel in Dallas on the morning after the national championship game.
“I learned I was too short to be a basketball player, and I was not big enough to be a football player,” he said. “I was a bad tennis player and a worse golfer. If I was going to be in sports, I’ve have to do what God gave me, and that was an ability to write and talk. My mom told me to go into newspapers because I’d always get a job. Little did she know.”
Little will continue to do radio color broadcasts of Longhorn baseball games as he has done for 46 seasons, and this fall his name adorned the press boxes of both the Texas football and baseball stadiums as the Bill Little Media Center, thanks to a generous donation from long-time Longhorn athletics supporter Marian Dozier.
So did he have withdrawal pains this season?
“You miss being around the kids, you miss being at practice,” he said. “That’s the main thing. But it seemed like the right time. The first game I missed (after he retired) was the one at Jerry World. I watched at home with a remote in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.”
He actually missed just two football games during his active tenure at Texas. He missed a Texas-Oklahoma game to serve as best man in the wedding of his brother Harvey, and he missed another when his mother, Ruth Little, died in October 1970.
Little almost missed Texas’ game against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl, but not even a heart attack two days earlier deterred him.
“I talked my way out of the hospital to go to the game,” he said after having a heart attack on a Friday morning. “That was the impostor game.” Ron Weaver posed as an eligible, 23-year-old special-teams player from California but was exposed just before the Sugar Bowl game as a 30-year-old junior-college transfer who had stolen the identity of another person, Ron McKelvey, who had never played football.
Little, however, has been the real deal his entire career.
And he treasures the memories of nearly five decades of service to college athletics. He’s hard-pressed to name a favorite Longhorn game or moment although “Case’s (McCoy) win over Oklahoma last year was as cool a deal as I’ve been around.”
Ramsey taught him some valuable lessons as well. Little learned cheering in the press box was strictly prohibited and a professional attitude in dealing with the media was absolutely essential.
“He taught me you always needed to answer your phone calls and your mail,” Little said. “The second thing, you may be dying on the inside, but you always work for the department and with the media. And they don’t want you jumping up and down.”
Little learned the responsibility almost too well.
When his two sons, Bobby and David, were competing at youth swimming meets, he said he “literally couldn’t bring myself to cheer.”
Little, who first wrote as a stringer for the San Angelo Standard Times in 1958, loved the written word and took special joy in writing his rich commentary of all things Longhorns. He’s also written eight books on the Longhorns and recently assisted former Texas Tech head football coach Spike Dykes on a book.
Could he have another book in him?
“You never know,” he said. “I don’t think I ever quit being a journalist. It was what I was trained to do. I always wanted to write something that mattered to people. I feel I touched people with my writing although there were times people would totally disagree with me.”
But all would agree that Little played a special role with the Longhorns for almost half a century.