|The Toughest Coach There Ever Was by Frank Deford|
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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 Scooba won, 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 you to 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."
Bull Cyclone's family remembers the first time he saw the Beatles, and, recalls Royce Tucker, one of his daughters, "he thought the world had come to an end." Still, everybody could see that at least he made some accommodations as the '60s came to an end and a new type of player evolved. Nonetheless, as Royce says, "Yeah, he changed some. He changed, but he liked the old ways best. You could see he was under some stress."
One time he told Royce flat out, "You can't coach in the same way."
"Why?" she asked.
"Because it doesn't work anymore." And that was all there was to that.
At a very early age the boy who would become Bull Cyclone realized that the best chance he had on this earth was with football. That doesn't mean he was dumb. Mrs. Elizabeth Cunningham, one of his high school teachers, remembers that he was an "excellent" student, and all through his life he loved such un-pigskin things as writing and anthropology. But the Sullivans were the poorest of poor whites in the poorest of times in the poorest part of the country.
Mrs. Sullivan had to support six children by herself because her husband, Wild Bill, dropped dead one day, down at the creek, fishing for dinner. Mrs. Sullivan barely got by, working at the cotton mill in Aliceville. That's just up from Scooba, only on the Alabama side.
Bull Cyclone was born in Echola, in Tuscaloosa County, Ala. in 1918, and the family moved to Aliceville when he was 10. Mrs. Sullivan moved the family again when young Bob was 16. She went down to Mobile, hoping to find a better paycheck in the big city. But Bob stayed behind to play football for Aliceville High. He got a room in back of a store by the cotton mill, paying for it by sweeping out the place. Years later, as a coach, no matter how badly Bull Cyclone would embarrass a player, he'd never let a boy be embarrassed by his clothes. Whenever possible, he'd try to get the youngster some better duds.
He also learned to abide almost any sort of person except someone who put on airs. It especially irritated Bull Cyclone that Stumpy Harbour had come to be more interested in the trappings of his office than in the substance. According to Bull Cyclone, Stumpy would rather gussy up the president's expanding mansion than improve the curriculum. Bull Cyclone never could tolerate Kemper County's self-proclaimed social elite, which dismissed the Sullivans as boorish newcomers even after they'd lived in Scooba for 15 years. One spring Sunday, Bull Cyclone took his family out to lunch over at the old Five Points Restaurant. It had a fine reputation, although its owners closed down with the onset of integration rather than serve the colored on white tablecloths. But on this particular Sunday, one of the pillars of Scooba society was also dining there, and she kept casting sideways looks at the Sullivans. Bull Cyclone stared back at the dowager, and out of the corner of his mouth, to his family, he whispered, "Don't anyone dare laugh." Then, while smiling at the matron, he reached over, picked up one of the daffodils that decorated the table and, most conspicuously, ate it, stem and all.
|Last Updated ( Tuesday, 25 March 2008 )|
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