Wednesday, June 7, 2017

June Marks 70th Anniversary of My Public Relations Career

Here it is June and time for the NCAA Track and Field Championships which reminds me that it’s exactly 70 years since June 1947 and the first day in my lifetime career in public relations – thanks to the Aztecs! 

I had just gotten out of the Navy and started at San Diego State in the fall of 1946. Because most of the men had just gotten back from World War II, there was no class hierarchy, so as a true freshman I became the sports editor of the weekly Aztec (not yet a daily), which was an amazing thing. I loved it! 

Willie Steele
Willie Steele, one of the all-time Aztec greats, and our first world-class athlete, was on campus at that time. In the spring of 1947 Willie was one of the top broad jumpers (as the long jump was known back then) in the world, and had qualified for the NCAA Track and Field championships in Salt Lake City. At the time there was no sports publicity director at State. Charlie Byrne was the overall PR guy for the college. 

One day Charlie came in and asked me if I would be interested in going to Salt Lake City and doing the advance work and publicity on Willie Steele and Bill Morales, who was our outstanding javelin thrower. In a nanosecond I said yes, I could do that! And so I went with Willie, Bill, track coach Choc Sportsman, and Bill Terry who was the athletic director at the time. 

At the meet, Willie was absolutely incredible! I happened to be down on the field at the time. His winning jump of 26’6” just barely missed Jesse Owens’ world record at that time, 26’8¼”. 

In 70 years, the long jump distances have hardly changed. Willie’s jump in 1947 would have been good for second place in the Long Jump at the 2016 Men’s Division I Track and Field Championships, and he would have won it in 2014 (winning distance: 26’3”). Think about that: a jump 67 years earlier would have won in 2014! I wonder if this year’s winner will jump farther than Willie did 70 years ago. 

I remember standing there watching Willie as he jumped several inches back on the board to make sure he did not foul. From toe to landing, he had to have flown at least 26’9”. And the world record would have come back with him to little San Diego State College! 

The point I have always made was that Willie Steele was the greatest all–around athlete that we’ve ever had at State in the 71 years I’ve been involved. I’m proud to say that the first story I ever sold to a magazine was one about Willie, called “The Steele Spring.” It appeared in Collier’s Weekly in 1948 and described how he could jump and leap. 

Seems just like yesterday
The trip to the NCAAs in Salt Lake City led to my being named the sports publicity director when I was still a freshman, earning 75¢ an hour. That may not sound like much now, but it was double what I had earned working at the Dixie Lumber Co. (now Dixieline Lumber). Later on, they decided to put me on salary. Now that I was working even longer hours, I figured out that I was now making 65¢ an hour. No complaints: it was like getting paid for your hobby. I managed to carry virtually a full-time job and still graduated in four years. 

This should help you see one more good reason why I am so proud to be an Aztec loyalist forever – an Aztec for Life! At this point I have no intention of ending my active involvement. If you have read my book GO AZTECS! you hear about many more reasons. The latest updated edition – including the dramatic windup to the 2016 season and DJ Pumphrey’s NCAA rushing record – is now available through the Aztec Bookstore and Amazon. (To order, just click the Order Now button at top left.) 

Right now I can hardly wait for the start of the Aztec football season – my 72nd season with the Aztecs! Hard to believe there will be five games in the month of September, and three at home: UC Davis on the 2nd, Stanford on the 16th and Northern Illinois on the 30th. I’ll see you at the Q! 


The men’s long jump finals were held June 7. The winning jump: 26’5”. That’s 1-1/2” LESS than Willie Steele’s winning jump in 1947. Think about that: The winning long jump from 70 years ago would have taken first place in 2017!