|The Toughest Coach There Ever Was by Frank Deford|
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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 farms. 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 apposition, 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 tackler. 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 pre-game 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 apposition looked over to see Scooba banging heads, what it unknowingly saw far 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 sonofabitch 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 a long 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 located at 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 up to 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 ballcarrier 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 handoff 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.
|Last Updated ( Tuesday, 25 March 2008 )|
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