Bears Pilot

By WVUA 23 Student Reporter Keith Huffman

Throughout his career as a pilot, Fosters resident Doug Sanders, 77, has flown many people to various destinations. Among passengers that he particularly remembers include legendary University of Alabama head football coach Paul W. “Bear” Bryant.

“You felt privileged,” Sanders said. “I enjoyed it. He was – you know, when you flew ‘Bear’ Bryant, you were something else.”

Sanders said he became determined to learn to fly at age 16 after his father, Kenneth, bought an old plane to spray their family’s cotton crop in the Benevola community in Pickens County. According to Sanders, he and his father taught one another how to fly, and he later became a private pilot at age 17 in 1957, and a commercial pilot in 1959.

Working as a crop duster for 30 years, Sanders’ flying expertise also provided him with opportunities to fly Bryant during some of the Crimson Tide coach’s recruiting trips and travels to bowl games between the early 1960s and early 1980s. Recalling Bryant’s growl-like voice and attentiveness to the weather, Sanders also highlighted Bryant’s winning streak in games other than football.

“He’d sit back in the back with the other guys, and they’d be playing cards, you know,” Sanders said. “They had a table and chairs, you know. And they’d say, ‘You gotta circle the field a little while.’ Say, ‘What do you mean?’ ‘We can’t land right now.’ He was winning. He always won. I never saw him lose.”

Sanders likewise shared a memory that involved his son, Gordo resident Roddy Sanders, who wrote a letter to Bryant when he was in the first grade in 1965. Giving the letter to his father before Sanders proceeded to fly Bryant, Roddy Sanders received the coach’s autograph after Bryant read his letter and wrote a response on the back of it.

Now an Auburn fan, Roddy Sanders said he cherishes his memory of Bryant and the letter.

“You know, when you’re six years old and ‘Bear’ Bryant sends you an autograph or a signed letter, it’s really special,” he said.

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