|The Toughest Coach There Ever Was by Frank Deford|
Page 19 of 20
His anguish increased as another football season approached. A few schools had talked to him about coaching positions, but when they asked Scooba for a reference, the academic dean, operating on orders from Harbour, responded with a scurrilous letter, defaming Bull Cyclone with false charges. The new president, Earl Stennis, fired the dean when he learned about the letter, but that was no consolation for Bull Cyclone. The first game in Mississippi that year was an NFL exhibition over in Jackson in early August. Bull Cyclone was given a couple of tickets, and he invited Gael to join him. He enjoyed the game, too, but driving home he told her that he prayed every day for Stumpy, and that she must do so as well.
Then it was September again, and the season was upon him in earnest. Some friends in the Lions Club invited him to speak the next Tuesday, the 8th. The subject was to be how best to watch football on TV, and Bull Cyclone got some old blank index cards and made notes for his talk.
While he was getting dressed, Bobbie called from Tulsa, where she had moved a few days earlier to take a job as a junior-high physical education teacher. He chatted with her and told her how much he missed and loved her, and then he handed the phone to Virginia and went to finish dressing for the Lions Club meeting. In the bathroom, Bull Cyclone had just slapped some cologne on his face when he dropped dead without a sound.
Nobody in the family, or any friends, or anybody who ever played for coach Sullivan doubts that he died of a broken heart. Everyone who ever knew him says that unequivocally. It was football time again, and Bull Cyclone didn't have a field.
When they buried him, cradling a pigskin, Little Vic didn't want to leave his father. Finally, he snatched off his jacket, took a shovel from one of the workmen and began to toss dirt on the casket. Without anyone saying anything, one by one, all the men there, so many of them Bull Cyclone's old players, removed their coats and took turns shoveling the grave full. A rose fell and someone tried to pluck it out of the dirt. Little Vic stopped him. "No," he said, "it's over his heart. That's where it belongs." So the rose wasn't moved.
A couple of years later Little Vic was on the varsity at New Hope High in Columbus, and he was playing a good game. The referee was old Billbo Mitchell--Can you still smell me, Bull?--and when he kept hearing the name Sullivan on the P.A. for making tackles, he came over and peered closely at the rangy boy. Little Vic thought maybe he was being assessed a penalty for something or other, but he couldn't figure out why. Finally, Billbo said, "You wouldn't be any kin of the late Bull Sullivan, would you?"
"He was my daddy," Vic said. And then, right there, right in the middle of a game he was refereeing impartially, Billbo put the ball down and stuck out his hand and made Little Vic shake it. "I loved that man," he said.
|Last Updated ( Tuesday, 25 March 2008 )|
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