Robert Victor Sullivan, whom you've surely never heard of, was the toughest coach of them all. He was so tough he had to have two tough nicknames, Bull and Cyclone, and his name was usually recorded this way: coach Bob "Bull" "Cyclone" Sullivan or coach Bob (Bull) (Cyclone) Sullivan. Also, at times he was known as Big Bob or Shotgun. He was the most unique of men, andyet he remains utterly representative of a time that has vanished, from the gridiron and from these United States.
Coach Bob "Bull" (Cyclone) Sullivan was a legend in his place. That place was Scooba, Miss, in Kemper County, hard by the Alabama line, hard to the rear of everywhere else. He was the football coach there, for East Mississippi Junior College, ruling this, his dominion, for most of the '50s and '60s with a passing attack that was a quarter century ahead of its time and a kind of discipline that was on its last legs. He was the very paradigm of that singular American figure, the coach—corch as they say in backwater Dixie—who loved his boys as he dominated them, drove off the weak and molded the survivors, making the game of football an equivalency test for life.
Bull Cyclone had spent his own years struggling through a hungry country childhood, getting wounded and killing in close combat as a Marine and then coming home to raise a family and till a tiny plot of American soil he had fought for. Once that would have meant working 40 acres with a mule and a plow. What Bull Cyclone turned was a parcel of earth 100 yards long and about half as wide, scratching out boys as his crop. "There are two reasons people play football," Bull Cyclone was heard to declare. "One is love of the game. The other is out of fear. I like the second reason a helluva lot better."
Randall Bradberry, who is now the football coach at East Mississippi—most people just call it Scooba—was a quarterback there in 1967. One day a Buckeye jet trainer from the nearby Meridian Naval Auxiliary Air Station went out of control. The pilot bailed out, and the empty plane winged in dead over the campus, missing the boys' dorm by 40 feet before plowing into the ground, miraculously doing no damage to edifice or person, except for muddying N.J. Smith, an agriculture teacher, whose outdoor laboratory—"Mr. Smith's pasture"—abutted the football practice field. But what a God-awful noise! Bradberry heard the jet skim over and then explode. "The only thing that crossed through my mind was that the Russians were attacking us," he recalls, "and that they had decided they had to go after Corch Sullivan first. I mean that."
Except possibly for the story about how he made his team scrimmage in a pond full of man-eating alligators, none of the tales about Sullivan have been exaggerated. "I mean, everything you hear is true," says Joe Bradshaw, who played guard for him in the early '50s. Bull Cyclone did sometimes run scrimmages in the pond, except the only gator certified to have been in it was an itty-bitty one the coach's family had brought back from Florida as a souvenir. And maybe it did grow up.
Few of the stories were written down. Instead, as if from some other age, an oral history of the coach developed, and whenever old players or other Scooba minstrels gathered, they would share Bull Cyclone stories, telling the same ones over and over, word for word, liturgically, as the wives drifted to the corners and shook their heads. Nobody even knows how many games Bull Cyclone won, although the best detective effort puts his record at 97–62–3. That was over 16 seasons,his life's work. However, he never had any real fame outside of Scooba and environs, he never won a national championship, never even won a Mississippi Junior College Association title, and he was too ornery, too cussed independent, for any big school to take a chance on him.
A lot of folks recall that Bear Bryant himself was on record, way back when, saying he wasn't near so tough as Bull Cyclone. As early as 1959, Jim Minter, now the editor of The Atlanta Constitution and The Atlanta Journal, wrote in fascination about the growing Scooba fable. Minter had heard some coaches talking about tough. Their opinion, wrote Minter, was that Wally Butts, "The Little Spartan ... was left at the gate ... Bear Bryant failed to win, place or show ... General Bob Neyland was not even mentioned." Instead, when it came to old-fashioned tough, "without dissent ... Shotgun Sullivan." And Minter's story went on: "I can tell you one thing," offered one college coach who has seen Shotgun Sullivan in action. "If you get a boy who has survived him for two years, I can guarantee he will make your team.' "
Though many football people acclaimed him as a genius, and everyone accepted him as a man of integrity, no one would dare hire him in the big time, because Bull Cyclone sure as shooting wasn't going to be a football assistant for any mother's son.It's apparently true that Norm Van Brocklin, an old pal of his, did once ask him to take over the Atlanta Falcons' offense when Van Brocklin was head coach, but Bull Cyclone declined, saying, "Now, Norm, why should I come up there and work for you when I already know more football than you do?" So he stayed in Scooba, eking out a living for his family, hunting and fishing, developing offenses that big-city coaches would make fashionable a generation later, and driving his players, whom he tricked out in skull-and-crossbones helmets and short-sleeved jerseys he designed himself. The shirts were known as star jerseys because below the black shoulder trim and above the numerals,there across the chest, were arrayed five stars. As far as anybody knew, no one, not even his wife and children, had any idea what the stars signified,and, of course, no one dared ask Bull Cyclone prying questions such as that. He was some coach. Curiously, as you shall see, he was also beloved.
He was 32 years old, a veteran, husband and father, when he returned to the Deep South in 1950 to assume his first head coaching job. East Mississippi had gone winless the autumn before and, for that matter, had seldom ever won a game. Even as the years wore on, as he produced 31 J.C. All-Americas, Bull Cyclone would tell his players they were suiting up for the smallest football-playing college in America. That might well have been true. Scooba had only about 250 to 300 kids then, a third of them girls. So in any given year, a substantial proportion of the male enrollment was playing for Coach Sullivan.
The hamlet of Scooba (Choctaw for "reed brake") then boasted 734 souls, which made it a metropolis in Kemper County. The county must look exactly the same now, only less so; when Bull Cyclone arrived in Kemper in 1950, the population was 16,000; today only 10,000 remain, planting a little cotton or soybeans, cutting pulpwood—"pu'pwood," as everybody says. Even into the '60s Scooba's main street had hitching posts, and it still has a big faded sign that reads SERVE COKE AT HOME. For more substantial spirits, the folks would go out to what were known as "jig joints," illegal road-houses in a state of Baptists and bootleggers that nevertheless winked at Prohibition, which remained the law in Mississippi until 1966. More than that, of course, Appomattox had yet to be acknowledged anywhere in Mississippi, especially not in Kemper, its most antediluvian, impoverished outpost.
Bull Cyclone had been reared nearby—"So far out in the country you could still smell pu'pwood on his breath," according to his old friend Carlton Fleming. Sullivan moved his wife, Virginia, and two daughters—another daughter and a son would come later—onto campus into what was known as The Alamo, a broken-down dormitory that housed the football players. It was reputed to be the only three-story public building in the county. The old place was so ramshackle that the Sullivans had to practice "leak drills." But it was home, and Christmastime they'd set up the tree out where the boys on the team could share it.
Getting those quarters in The Alamo was crucial because all Bull Cyclone was paid for being the football coach—and the baseball coach and athletic director—was $3,600 a year, plus $75 for every game he won. Most of the latter went for gas so he could go on recruiting trips. Bull Cyclone couldn't do much work over the phone in as much as there were only three in all of Scooba, one at the drugstore, and one each at the president's house and the president's office.
What Scooba had above all was homogeneity. The students were all the same: free, white, going on 21, mostly penniless. They were bound together in a way that most of today's diverse student bodies couldn't conceive. The girls were only allowed out one night a week, and on the Sabbath girls and boys alike were "urged" to attend both Sunday school and church and then, for good measure, to observe a"quiet hour" from two to three in the afternoon. "At this time," the school catalog explained, "students are to be in their rooms. It is suggested that they write their parents during quiet hour and that they spend some of this time in meditation." The college library had only4,500 volumes. A football coach could be a gigantic personage in that sort of place.
And he was. For amusement Scooba had jig joints and bad girls, hunting and fishing, and, in season, football. It has always been Dixie's game. Bradberry, who was raised close by in the little town of Sturgis, says, "If you were a boy and grew up in Sturgis, Mississippi and didn't play football for the high school, your daddy didn't get credit at the grocery store."
Said the East Mississippi catalog the year that Bull Cyclone arrived, "Athletics may be justified as part of the physical culture program, as a recreational feature and as disciplinary measure.... We also teach good sportsmanship andself-denial in habits and attitudes."
Armed with that mandate, Bull Cyclone got in his old station wagon and, like some preacher or salesman, hit the highways and byways in search of football players. He had only one returning from the win-less '49 season. Sullivan ranged far and wide and, brandishing the GI Bill, even induced some soldiers at various posts to abandon service for their country to play for Scooba. Tales of such outlanders arriving on motor sickles can still be heard. "They'd put 'em in jail for tearing up, and then they'd tear up the jail," Fleming recalls with a guffaw. But on his field, Bull Cyclone, who peaked out at around 6'5" and 285 pounds, brooked no back talk.
His first team assembled, coach Sullivan called up and got a game with Little Rock J.C. to open the season. And what was Little Rock J.C.? Only the '49 winner of the Junior Rose Bowl, the junior-college champion of America. Bull Cyclone was scared of no one, and he would prove it.
When the Scooba team arrived in Little Rock, it was told to practice at the stadium itself.Bull Cyclone, who was especially attuned to spies, suspected that some would be hidden in the stands, so he had his players run all sorts of goofy plays. Aftera while, Bull Cyclone called over his manager. Managers were very important to Bull Cyclone, and he expected almost as much of them as he did of his quarterbacks. "The trouble with being a manager for my father," recalls Bobbie, his oldest daughter, "is that he assumed a manager would know what he wanted before he asked." Bull Cyclone instructed this first manager to play dumb and to go over to the Little Rock J.C. locker room and tell the coach that Scooba had forgotten to bring kicking tees. He then was to ask whether he could borrow some. Sure enough, the manager saw that the Little Rock coach was drawing all the ridiculous East Mississippi plays on a blackboard for his players.
Bull Cyclone was pretty sure, then, that his first game as a head coach would be "like taking candy from a baby." One of his major tenets was to strike fast with surprise. He knew Little Rock wouldn't know what hit it.
Back in Scooba that night, the postmistress, who had a good radio, picked up the game all the way from Little Rock. Bull Cyclone had promised that he would call in the outcome to the phone at the president's house, but during the game the lady with the radio started going around town giving everybody updates. Pretty soon a lot of townspeople were congregated around her radio in the Sullivans' apartment at The Alamo, listening to the game. This was the biggest thing that had ever happened to Scooba, and Bull Cyclone had only just come to town.
He beat the defending national champions 34-14, and his legend was in the making in that grateful little crossroads. As best we can tell, Bull Cyclone went 8-3 that first season, and 21-9 for three years, which was more victories than Scooba had enjoyed in its history. The college had been chartered in 1927, a step up from a county agricultural school. However, in 1953 Bull Cyclone departed Scooba, taking his family up to Nashville, where he wanted to finish up work for his bachelor's degree in physical education at Peabody College.
Once he had his degree in hand, though, he planned to return to Scooba. And he did—for the '56 season. East Mississippi had taken on a new president in the interim, a local man familiar with Bull Cyclone's exploits, and he hired him back. The president was a little red-haired fellow named R.A. Harbour. He always went by his initials, hoping that no one would remember that his square name was Ritzi Algeine. Unfortunately, behind his back he was called Stumpy, for he was as small a man as Bull Cyclone was big.
Like the coach,though, the president was married to a smart woman, one who was every bit his partner. Edna Harbour joined the faculty at Scooba, and she eventually became its public relations director. Edna was a beautiful woman, taller than her husband, and she constantly pushed Stumpy, regularly correcting him and embarrassing him in front of his colleagues.
Still, it's fair to say that Stumpy wanted as much |for the college he ran as Bull Cyclone did for the football team, and the new president was delighted to get Sullivan back in '56. The team had again fallen on hard times, and the fans had grown resentful, as all fans do, at the lack of success. When Stumpy hired Bull Cyclone, the Kemper County Messenger ("This is the only newspaper in the world whose sole interest is in Kemper County") exulted: "He is considered one of the best offensive coaches in existence, including senior college.... Sullivan's teams didn't always win, but they always put on a show for the spectators. When you saw Sullivan's boys play, you saw a jam-up scoring, razzle-dazzle game that left you breathless and sometimes mad also.But you saw a football game."
But it was just like '50 all over again. Scooba had only two players back from the '55 squad,so Bull Cyclone had to scour the territory for live bodies. The way it worked then, at Scooba and at a lot of other places, a coach would rope in so many players, weed out the losers during summer practice and then "dressout" the survivors. Bull Cyclone didn't disguise what he was doing. Justthe opposite. A candidate he was recruiting would ask, "Corch, are you giving me a scholarship?"
"Yeah,"Bull Cyclone would grumble, "I'm giving you a scholarship if you don't quit or if I don't run you off." It was customary for a Scooba player—fresh manor sophomore—to sign his scholarship form as he boarded the team bus to go to the first game.
Understand,"running off' was a fairly common gridiron practice in those days. It was,for example, what cemented Bryant's reputation as a martinet when he started coaching at Texas A&M in '54. You didn't get cut, you got run off the team.Or perhaps, more often, you chose to run yourself off. "Bull ran off more All-Americans than he kept," says Don Edwards, who played quarterback at Scooba in the late '50s. Players can remember hearing suitcases banging down the stairs of The Alamo just before dawn as boys decided not to go through another two-a-day. Others would leave surreptitiously in the black of night.They'd sneak down the stairs and then push their cars out of earshot before starting them up, lest Bull Cyclone wake up and come after them and make them stay on the team.
When Sullivan's old players get together, they often wonder about the ones that quit. It wasn't exactly dishonorable to get run off. After all, a lot did, and damn near everybody almost did. Edwards, for example, left six times before ultimately deciding to stay. Still, the survivors wonder what ever happened to the others.Well, here's one report, from C.R. Gilliam of Carrolton, Ala.: "We'd practice four hours in the morning and then four more hours in the afternoon. I was playing defensive guard and got my nose broken. It was bleeding real bad and pushed around to the side, but Bull just kicked my butt and told me to get back in there.
"That night,I'm laying on that pillow, my nose is aching, I'm feeling real sorry for myself, and I'm thinking, 'I don't have to take this.' I got up and met Bull in the hall the next morning and told him I was going home. 'How?' Bull asked me.'Walkin',' I told him. I started out and must have gotten four or five miles,to near Geiger, when here come that red Pontiac station wagon of his. He picked me up and took me on home to Carrolton. I never did go to the doctor about that nose."
Something like 200 of Bull Cyclone's players became coaches, and he'd tell them, "Son,don't never worry about a player who leaves. The only thing for you to do is find out why he left and work on it for the next one comes along like that."
Coaching, at least as it was practiced then, in the good old days, wasn't exactly like the ministry. The idea wasn't to save all the souls. The ones that got run off were on their own, but the ones who stayed would be affected far out of proportion.Bull Cyclone, like a lot of coaches, especially football coaches, had more impact on many boys' lives than did their fathers. It was all very basic,really. "You either loved him or you didn't stay," says Bill Buckner, Scooba's best quarterback, who is now the coach at Hinds J.C. "He pushed everyone to the point where they either left him or they gave him what they were capable of."
Edwards remembers the year he was captain and a big lineman complained that Sullivan was slugging him. "Nobody hits me, not even my daddy," the lineman said. But Edwards wasn't about to get involved. "Besides, Bull wasn't really hitting the boy," he says. "Just in the solar plexus."
"Yeah,"says Bill (Sweet William) Gore, a retired postman who was Bull Cyclone's good friend. "They'd think he was killing a boy out there when all he was doin' was gettin' his attention."
Bull Cyclone's attention-getting took varied forms. One of his favorite tactics was to have his players practice hitting one-on-one, head on, right before a game or, when he was especially irritated, at halftime, or even during time-outs. More often than not, this was very disconcerting to the wide-eyed opposition, not to mention what it did to the bodies of the Scooba players. Often in these drills Bull Cyclone wouldn't tell his players who was supposed to be the ballcarrier and who was supposed to be the tackier. So, starting 20 yards apart, a pair of players would tear into one another. Before such drills, Bull Cyclone also had the habit of saying, "Now, I don't want to see any of you—s standing up,and I don't want to see any of you—s on the ground."
L.C. Jeffries,who played on one of Bull Cyclone's early teams after having seen combat with the Second Infantry in Korea, says, "Sure, we broke some ribs and noses going one-on-one with ourselves at halftime, but understand that what Bull did didn't come out of cruel rural ignorance. He was a smart man and he was playing on the psyche."
Although Bull Cyclone would line up all his players in their star jerseys for the pregame head-ons, he often made sure that his best ones, especially the quarterbacks,who were inviolate in his scheme, never took a lick. When they neared the front of the line, one of the eight or nine scrubs would jump ahead and replace them in the rotation. These unfortunates Sullivan called the "gook squad."Hence when the opposition looked over to see Scooba banging heads, what it unknowingly saw for the most part was the gook-squadders repeatedly laying into each other.
Bull Cyclone made sure, though, that no one on the team felt safe. Sometimes he would advise his players, "I've killed more men than I can stack on this football field." That usually got their attention. One time, when he was mad at Bradberry, he said, "Bradberry, I killed seven gooks with a foxhole shovel.One more son of a bitch like you won't matter."
If these remarks were hyperbolic, their substance was real enough. Sgt. Sullivan had fought the last battles of the Pacific with the First Marines, ending up on Okinawa, where he was wounded on June 16, 1945. Maybe that's why he thought he could demand so much of his players, whose sacrifices couldn't compare with those of the good Americans he had fought alongside, and left behind—and finally, as we shall see, honored. He never quite separated war and football. Flipping through what seems to be a scrapbook dedicated entirely to football, one suddenly comes to along clipping about Okinawa, with a huge headline: BLOODIEST BATTLE OF THE PACIFIC. Once at halftime Bull Cyclone spread his players along the 50-yard line—"Team! A-ten-shun!"—and marched them to the end zone, military style, to reacquaint them with that foreign terrain.
Bull Cyclone didn't always need a whistle to get his players' attention. He just hollered "Whoaaa!" and everything screeched to a halt. His language, especially in the earlier years, could wilt the blossoms in Mr. Smith's pasture. Grown men listened in awe when he cursed—"Unbelievably vile," says Charlie Box,who was a fullback and no prude. One time, Dick Potter, a referee, felt obliged to penalize Scooba 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct because of how grossly Bull Cyclone had yelled at one of his own players.
But more frightening was his mere presence. He was big all over—ham-hock arms, huge feet, a melon head so large that when he decided to change his game ensemble,switching from a ten-gallon hat to a baseball cap, he had to split the cap in back to get it comfortably on his head. Virginia, a lovely woman, his second wife, who was at his side all the years in Scooba, remembers a player telling her, "Miz Sullivan, we're not afraid of Corch. Why, we reckon ten or twelve of us together could whip him." Players commonly took off their shoes as they passed his room, fearful that they might awaken him from a nap. A lot of times he would tear off his coat in the middle of a game, throw it down, stomp on it and then sort of hurl it back to the bench. Whatever player got in front of it would quickly pass it along, because nobody wanted to be holding it when Bull Cyclone started looking for his coat again. And, to be sure, nobody dared put it on the ground. So the coat would go up and down the bench like a hot potato.
Lester Smith, a quarterback from Foley, Ala., recalls one game at Southwest during which the fans were "giving him fits." When the game was over and the fans were threatening his players, Bull Cyclone told them, "O.K. now, if I say 'sic' em,' I mean sic 'em!" But he became the point man and went and stood in the stadium gate and glared at the fans until one by one they all melted away,and Bull Cyclone's team filed out, unmolested.
To spice up practices Bull Cyclone would sometimes have the managers wrap old mattresses around pine trees to make blocking targets. The idea was to see if anybody could slam into a tree hard enough to knock off a pinecone. Try it. Or, if he thought things were slack during a scrimmage, he would scream, "Get after it!" and the linemen were automatically obliged to choose up and start fighting one another.
From his Parris Island days, Bull Cyclone borrowed the idea of an obstacle course, adding a wrinkle of his own—a trip wire in the tall grass that the managers yanked as the weary players came through. From another part of the course, Bull Cyclone would hurl bricks at the players as they tried to regain their balance after clambering over a wall. He would miss, but barely. He did, however, get their attention.
Probably his most famous gambit was to hold scrimmages at the edge of the pond, which is locatedat the bottom of a gentle slope, down from where Mr. Smith's pasture used to be. Bull Cyclone came up with the scheme in order to test goal-line defenses.He took his defensive unit and lined it up in the shallow water, which came upto about the players' knees. Then Bull Cyclone had the offense storm down the hill. It "scored" if the running back could make it into the water.
Gerald Poole,who's still on the faculty at Scooba, was Bull Cyclone's defensive assistant the day he dreamed up the pond scrimmage. "You think your—defense is tough?" Bull Cyclone roared, and then had coach Poole station his players in the water. The first two goal-line plays, off-tackle, failed to get a splashdown. On the third and last shot, Poole told his middle linebacker that he thought the ball carrier would come right over the middle on the next assault. "If he does, I'm gonna shoot him like an old dove," the linebacker said. Sure enough, the runner took the hand-off and tried to leap into the pond over center. The linebacker popped up, met him at the height of his dive, and the two players crashed into the muck, headfirst. It wasn't uncommon for the defenders to lose their cleats in the Mississippi mud.
The reference to dove shooting wasn't unusual, either. Most Scooba players were country boys who had, like the coach, grown up with guns. Because Bull Cyclone was almost paranoid about opponents spying, he outfitted his managers with rifles. On at least two occasions it's documented that Bull Cyclone grabbed a rifle from a manager and fired at a private airplane that had strayed into his practice airspace. Another time he bade the manager to open fire on a plane, but the boy panicked, threw down the gun and, so the story goes, ran off the field, never to show his face again in Scooba. On another occasion, a succession of shots heard from where a manager was stationed—with a shotgun and orders to shoot to kill any suspected spies.
"Oh my Lord!" Bull Cyclone screamed. "Who did he shoot?"
Mercifully, no one. The manager was just another old country boy, and when he saw a covey of quail nearby, he blasted away.
Scooba boys were the last in the country to eschew leather helmets, because Bull Cyclone believed that the hard modern helmets caused more injuries than they prevented.He thought his players would be better off with the nice, soft leather helmets—especially if they were decked out with skull and crossbones. No sooner had he thought of the skull-and-crossbones idea than he dispatched a manager with a bunch of helmets for Mrs. Sullivan to start painting. "Bob thought the skull and crossbones would kind of rattle the other team," she says."He told the players, 'Now, you don't have to make faces. But don't smile.'"
Traditionally,when the Scooba players came out before a game, they didn't make a sound. Most teams scream and shout and carry on to prove they're ready to play, but Bull Cyclone thought that was a waste of good energy. His charges came out as silent as the fog. Imagine being a player on the other team, and here comes the bunch you're going to play, togged out in star jerseys—and now in skull-and-boneshelmets—quiet as mice, and then on the sideline they start going one-on-one.That was likely to get your attention.
Bull Cyclone had some kind of temper. Because he was a man of his word, remarks he made while in a rage were not disregarded. He often drove the team bus, a rattly, broken-down vehicle that was known as Night Train because it seemed to function better after the sun went down. After one defeat, Bull Cyclone climbed behind the wheel and announced that he was so mad he was going to run the bus off the road and kill the whole team. Box, who was aboard, says, "I don't know how many of us believed him—most of us believed everything he ever said—but the manager sure did, because he started crying, 'Well, let me off first, Corch, because I'm just the manager, and I didn't have a thing to do with us losing this game.' "
Bull Cyclone's tempestuous hijinks didn't go unnoticed. People would come out just to watch him carry on, throw his coat down, stomp on his hat. One time at Holmes the crowd got so abusive that Bull Cyclone called time and had his players pick up their benches and march to the other side of the field. Robert McGraw, now an assistant at Ole Miss, recalls seeing Bull Cyclone storm onto the field because a wide receiver had run the wrong route. He picked up the player by his jersey and sort of flung him aside. The boy scurried to the bench and hid under it,quaking, while the coach stormed back, the fans all the while chanting,"Give 'em hell, Bull!"
At his maddest,he could really kick a ball. Langston Rogers, who served as Bull Cyclone's aide-de-camp and is now the sports information director at Ole Miss, swears that on one occasion when the coach got mad at the officials, he blustered onto the field between plays, right up to the line of scrimmage, and booted the ball 30 yards, soccer style, dead through the uprights. Another time he went out and kicked the game ball into the stands. As a result the Mississippi Junior College Association required him to spend the whole next game in a chair on the sideline. Stumpy Harbour was infuriated. He acted as if Bull Cyclone had embarrassed him in front of the other presidents. None of them had a football coach kicking game balls into the stands, did they?
A lot of peoplethought Bull Cyclone would never be able to sit still in the chair the entire game, so there was no telling what Stumpy would do. But, wouldn't you know it,Bull Cyclone stayed put, barely even rising from his seat. That might have madeStumpy even madder. Bull Cyclone could control himself when he had to. Why, to this day, you'd have a hard time finding a lady in Kemper County who ever heard coach Bob (Bull) (Cyclone) Sullivan utter a curse word.
For that matter,although he constantly fought with officials, he never argued just to dispute a call. Bull Cyclone only let the officials have it when he thought they had misinterpreted a rule. "You stink, Billbo!" he screamed when Billbo Mitchell made a call that Sullivan didn't agree with. Mitchell stepped off 15 before saying, "Can you still smell me, Bull?" Bull Cyclone was a stickler about the rules. He knew the book so well and cared so passionately for it that General Neyland, the revered Tennessee coach, eventually got Bull Cyclone from Scooba appointed to the NCAA rules committee, even though his unknown little school wasn't even a member of that august national body.
This isn't to say that Bull Cyclone was above taking the rules as far as they could go. At least one time, in the rain, he taped thumbtacks to his quarterbacks' fingers so they could get a better grip on the ball. That worked just fine until the tacks started scratching up the pigskin better than a Don Sutton belt buckle. Another time, Bull Cyclone got to thinking about how his linemen pulled out to block.He was using the split T then, and most of the plays came off the quarterback rolling right. So Coach thought, "Well now, if my guard and tackle are going to pull on just about every play and everybody figures this, I might as well get them headed in the right direction to start with." So he had them come up to the line of scrimmage and take their three-point stances facing the other way, with their rear ends staring the opposing linemen in the face.
And on a most memorable occasion, just as Scooba was about to score against Southwest, the officials called a holding penalty, citing the number of a player who wasn't in the game. Enraged by this breach, Bull Cyclone ran onto the field to get his point across better. That's an automatic 15 on top of the 15 for holding.First-and-40. Potter, the referee, said, "You gotta go back, Corch,"but Bull Cyclone kept on coming. Another 15. First-and-55. "C'mon,Bull," Potter pleaded. He liked him. "Go on back, or I gotta give you 15 more."
"I don't give a damn!" Bull Cyclone thundered. "You're wrong!" Potter stepped off 15 more. First-and-70. Then, as soon as Potter placed the ball down once again,Bull Cyclone went into his patented kicking phase. He booted the bejesus out of the ball. By the time they retrieved it, it was first-and-85.
Because they had nearly run out of acreage and he had made his point, Bull Cyclone returned to the sideline, pausing only to tell his quarterback to call a Z-out, Z-in. This was one play, mind you. Southwest was still laughing and, needless to say,wasn't looking for Bull Cyclone to try to get the whole 85 back on one play.But he was. Z-out, Z-in, TD.
"Wooo, that did it," Poole says.
Bull Cyclone enjoyed matching wits with other coaches. Dobie Holden down at Pearl River was his favorite rival. Pearl River was often the top team in the conference. It was a much larger school than Scooba and always well coached. One year Pearl River was an overwhelming favorite against Scooba and was at home, to boot.This brought out the best in Bull Cyclone. He really put on his thinking cap.Scooba would normally arrive for a Saturday night game around 4 p.m., after stopping along the way for a typical training meal that the players referred to as "the four Ts": tea, taters, toast and tough meat. This time,however, as old Night Train rattled through Hattiesburg on the way to Pearl River, Bull Cyclone had the bus pull up to one of the fanciest restaurants in all of Mississippi and treated the boys to the finest of repasts. Then, as Night Train rolled into the Poplars ville area, where Pearl River is located,Bull Cyclone diverted it to a roadside park. Everybody in Pearl River was wondering what was up as game time approached. Where were Bull Cyclone and the Scooba team? Finally, just in time for the players to dress, Night Train arrived.
In the locker room, Bull Cyclone told them not to utter a sound until right before the kickoff, whereupon they were to "go crazy." Pearl River, already discombobulated by the late arrival, was put off even more by these antics, and the home team left the field at halftime down 3-0. Unfortunately, Bull Cyclone didn't have any more psychological tricks up his sleeve, and Pearl River won something like 42-3. Edwards, who was a sophomore, remembers saying to Bull Cyclone afterward, "Well, that kinda backfired."
"Oh, we got a half out of 'em," said Bull Cyclone, with equanimity. He never had any difficulty accepting defeat—or even losing seasons—as long as he thought he was outmanned and everybody had done his best.
Most of Bull Cyclone's players still maintain that the public never really saw him at his best—at half-time. Even with one-on-ones awaiting them, Scooba players were wont to say, "It's safer on the field than in the locker room." As Poole remembers, chuckling, the players would "draw up" during halftime. Among other things, Bull Cyclone threw a lot of objects, from salt tablets up to and including a huge axle-grease drum. To give the devil his due,Sullivan thought the drum was empty. It wasn't. It had been used as a trash container, and when he flung it at a post, the top flew off and the garbage poured over the poor lad who had chosen to sit against the post. Petrified, the player never budged, just letting the trash spill on him and his star jersey,while the coach raved on. Other times, Bull Cyclone destroyed a chair by smashing it against a table, kicked any number of things, drove his fist clear through a blackboard and, to use the singular Mississippi expression,"forearmed" a variety of stationary objects.
But halftimes weren't just pyrotechnic displays. Indeed, to add to the air of uncertainty,Sullivan would always leave his boys alone at first, letting them unwind with Cokes and Hershey bars. Because he favored wing-tip brogues that always seemed to squeak, everyone could hear him approaching. The first game Bradberry played for Scooba, Bull Cyclone came in and squatted on the floor in front of the quarterback. Bull didn't say a word until it was time to go back onto the field. Then, staring straight through poor Bradberry, he snarled, "Come on,young lady," and got up and departed. The performance so unnerved some of the veteran sophomores that a couple of them threw Bradberry against a wall and advised him he damn well better not screw up and get the coach down on the whole team. Terrified, Bradberry brought Scooba home 29-3.
During another memorable halftime, Bull Cyclone suddenly materialized in the locker room on his hands and knees, with his overcoat collar pulled up around his ears. He gave no explanation for this bizarre posture but merely crawled from player to player, stopping before each one, staring him dead in the face, like a mad dog.This caught their attention.
Bull Cyclone usually started at halftime by walking the length of the locker room. Then he'd shorten the span until eventually he wasn't taking steps, but just sort of doing an about-face. It was mesmerizing. Next he would talk. To hear him was a hypnotic experience, for he would blink a lot—an aftereffect of his war experiences—or his eyes would sort of roll back up in his head. When he spoke with emphasis, which he invariably did, his jaw would shake, so that his gruff voice resonated all the more. Edwards recalls one halftime when Bull Cyclone went through this routine, never saying a word, until, at the last, he spun on his heels and screamed, "I was on an island with 5,000 Japs! Now, get out of here!" The players all but stampeded in an effort to escape him, and then destroyed an unsuspecting opponent.
Box remembers when Bull Cyclone gave his finest Knute Rockne oration. He spoke very softly,recounting how he was in a foxhole with a buddy who had just been hit by shrapnel. Blood was pouring out of the Marine, and he obviously wasn't going to make it. "Anything I can do for you?" Bull Cyclone whispered. The locker room was still and reverent.
"Yeah, Big Bob, just win one for me sometime." Well, this was the sometime. And Scoobawon, too. Apparently, that was the only time Bull Cyclone invoked his friend's dying wish. But he always wanted to do something for the ones he left back in the Pacific. Sometimes, when he was really furious, out of the blue he would holler, "You—s, you're out here playin', breathin' this free air because a heap of people died for you."
If he cared, he would never let up. That was the way men were made then. Maybe it was the wrong way, but it was the way back then. "He'd ride you to just before he got youto the ground, and only then he'd let you up...some," Bradberry says."Then he had you in his hip pocket."
"Yeah, he was tough," Edwards says. "But I loved him like a father. And I'll tell you: Any player who ever stayed with him will say that."
That was the way it was. That was the way people let it be. The players were all the same sorts,they were in it together, and football and Okinawa were very much the same."Football doesn't mean near as much as it used to," Bradberry says. And no, he goes on, there's no way in the world that he—or anybody else—could coach Scooba the way coach Sullivan did. "The ones playing now look at football differently," says Bradberry. "They've got more to do. There's nowhere near as many dedicated people."