Keeper of the field
Behind the scenes Aggie legend Billy Pickard has spent most of his life keeping the Texas A&M football team and Kyle Field in top shape.
Published: Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 19:07
We sit inside a small, cramped office. Texas A&M memorabilia, books, hats, posters, signed photos, knick-knacks and paddy-whacks adorn the walls, desks and bookshelves. Seventy-four-year-old Billy Pickard, director of facilities for the Athletic Department, sits behind his desk, rocking back and forth in his maroon chair, talking about what can only be described as "the good old days."
He points to a small poster on the wall of the old Junction campsite, where then-football Head Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant took Aggies for fall practice before the 1954 season.
"At Junction, there were no clouds in the sky," Pickard said. "It was very bright the whole time, even at night. I was the student trainer back then. I got there before they did and left after them. We took 72 players and only brought back 34, all in 10 days."
Pickard is, for all intents and purposes, the man behind Kyle Field's pristine condition. His office is buried deep under the west stands, stuck somewhere between Bryant's old office and the old athletic locker rooms. Since his days as a student back in the early 1950s, Pickard has been involved with A&M and the Aggie football team in some way, shape or form.
"When I got to Texas A&M, I spent the fall of my freshman year as a student manager for the football team," Pickard said. "I was about 105 pounds and realized I probably wasn't going to play. I also figured out that good players make great coaches, so I found the trainers' room and started working for them. I started in December of 1952, and then Coach Bryant came in '54."
Pickard is something of an unknown legend at A&M. He has worked under every Aggie football coach since the end of the Korean War and has seen the University and the program morph into what it is today.
"The University has changed so much since I arrived and I can attribute most of the change to the magnificent addition of the females to A&M," Pickard said with a wry smile. "When Gen. Rudder decided to let women in, we had a lot of Aggies that completely divorced this place. Think what this place would be like without women! It's just not practical.
"I've been here for all improvements in [Kyle Field]. We have gone from just a little second deck on the west side, to second decks all around, to the third deck on the student side and finally to the Zone. I sat on the bench for the first and last game in G. Rollie, and the first game in Reed. I won't be around for the last game in Reed."
As we walked out of Pickard's office on our tour of the dark places of Kyle Field, Pickard recalled working with some of the greatest coaches in A&M history.
"I had a special relationship with Coach Sherrill because of my relationship with Coach Bryant and his relationship with Jackie," he said. "I told him when he came up with the 12th Man kickoff team that he was crazy, but now I guess I'm the crazy one.
He and I had problems with the band messing up the field when they practiced, marching and knocking off all the chalk and lines we laid down. One day he came to me and told me he was gonna tell the band they couldn't be on Kyle Field unless it was during halftime. I told him, 'Coach, I'll give you a little advice: don't mess with the band.' I reckon he didn't say anything more after that."
Pickard led us around the catacombs of Kyle Field, back into offices and locker rooms that journalists would kill to see. He opened the door to Bryant's old office, now a musty old broom closet, and pointed out where Bryant used to sit back in the day. As deep as his memory well is, Pickard knows he is not as quick as he used to be and appreciates everything the University has given back to him over the past few years.
"I'm 74 years old, and you really ought not to be hanging around that long," he said with a chuckle. "I'm really fortunate that Mr. [Athletic Director Bill] Bryne has let me hang around here for so long. For the first 30 or so years, I worked with those coaches all the time as the student trainer. Now I just kinda do the maintenance, looking after the facilities."
Pickard walks us onto Kyle Field, the holy grail of Aggie football and his baby for the past 40 years. His thoughts and stories on the sanctioned battlefield could run long into the night, but for Pickard the field isn't the mythical beast most Aggies believe it to be.
"There are a whole lotta' myths about Kyle Field. It isn't the sanctioned ground that a lot of people think. It's supposed to be all this sanctimonious ground and whatnot…so much stuff happens on this field, but people want to believe it's something special and sacred."
Pickard has spent most of his adult life on Kyle Field, helping athletes, tending the field and prepping the stadium for game days. Now, in his old age, he has traded in his water bottles, ice packs and knee wraps for a tool kit and a keen ear.
"What I do in the spring, instead of being out on the field watching them practice, I walk every single step in the stadium, stomping on each bench testing to see if they are broken. Takes about six weeks, working about two to three hours a day. It's a real booger up there [at the third deck of the zone.] I keep a big folder of all the things I need to do before a game, that way if I die, you could pretty much come in here and get the field ready. 'Course, at my age, I'm probably a lot closer to dying then I am livin. I try to keep nothing a secret because it does us no good for me to keep a bunch of things that nobody knows anything about."
He trudges up into the stands, slamming his foot down on the nearest bleacher seat. It resonates throughout the empty stadium. Pickard smiles and sighs.
"See, that's a good bench. Doesn't rattle too much. It's solid."
Back in his office, out of the heat and back in his chair, the conversation turns to football. Pickard, forever the optimist, sees a bright future for Aggie football.