|The Toughest Coach There Ever Was by Frank Deford|
Page 14 of 20
Buckner was trapped now; it was too late. He was hit low, and as he went down, another defender caught him with his fist, solid, square on the cheek. As he buckled, Buckner could feel his whole face cave in as if it were papier-mache. The man who took the game films for Bull Cyclone told him he'd caught it all. But the films had to be developed in Jackson, which is Jones territory.
When they came back that one play had been spliced out. Bull Cyclone didn't care. He'd seen it all himself. He vowed never to play Jones again, and he never did.
Buckner struggled to his feet and staggered to the sideline. He didn't lose consciousness, but he knew his jaw was broken the instant the blow landed. Now he was bleeding so much he had difficulty talking. His face was all splintered. He went over to Bull Cyclone, and he mumbled, "Corch, I believe my jaw is broken."
Bull Cyclone just stared at Buckner, dead on, for the longest kind of time. Finally, he balled his fists and screamed, "You damn idiot! I told you not to run that ---- football!" Then he turned away from Buckner and sent in the No.2 quarterback. They would retire Baby Doll's number, but not Buckner's. Jones won the game.
Bull Cyclone's youngest daughter, Gael, Little Cyclone, was 12 then. She used to race her friends onto the field after games, all of them trying to see who could get to her daddy first. This time Gael won, but as soon as she reached him, she froze. "Right away, I knew something terrible had happened," she says. "This time I could tell he was sad, not angry."
Scooba was in shock and lost the next week, too, finishing 9-2. Buckner never again wore his star jersey. Somebody else got invited to the Junior Rose Bowl. Somebody else was national champion. Scooba fell in the polls. It didn't even win the conference. Bull Cyclone never won it, and he wouldn't have another terrific shot for five more years, with the royal flush team of '69.
A few days after the Jones game, Sullivan went to the hospital in Meridian to visit Buckner. He was carrying flowers. A lot of times he would yank up some black-eyed Susans and have the managers take them over to Mrs. Sullivan, but now he was carrying a real bouquet. Buckner has never forgotten any of it. Bull Cyclone came in, laid down the flowers and just stood there at the end of the bed. Buckner was waiting to say something after Bull Cyclone spoke, but Bull Cyclone never said a word. For 10 minutes he just stood there, until, at last, bereft of voice and dreams, he turned and walked away, going back to Scooba.
Finally, in 1966, the Sullivans got their own house, a neat and sturdy red brick just beyond the end zone. President Harbour thought that respectable faculty housing was good for the campus. But that was the coach's only perquisite, and for his $5,600 salary, Bull Cyclone wasn't only football coach and athletic director but dean of men as well. A friend gave him a partnership in a little local franchise known as Chicken Chef, even though Bull Cyclone never had the cash to invest in the deal. "If Bull lived to be 200 years old, he'd never have had any money," says his old buddy Fleming. Friends say letters would come in from his former players, down on their luck, between jobs, and old coach Sullivan would pull out his last five-dollar bill and send it on.
The best way to sum up Bull Cyclone was what a boy named Bernard Rush heard from an old-timer after Rush quit the team and went back home, over in DeKalb. "Son," the old fellow said, "you ought to get yourself back over to Scooba. Corch Sullivan will do anything to you on the football field, but then he'll do anything for you once you left." Rush went back.
Then, too, some said he even mellowed a bit in the '60s. During each Religious Emphasis Week, it was Bull Cyclone, the toughest coach there ever was, that the girls wanted to come to their dorm and talk to them about boys and morals and sex. He was a Methodist, but the Baptists wanted him to address them. He began to take to religion seriously and to punish himself. If he let loose a "goddam" during practice, the whole team was permitted to go in early. Finally, says Gael, one night in '67 he went to the front of his church and fell to his knees "in unashamed prayer." Scooba had telephones now, and the cynics in town burned up the wires questioning Bull Cyclone's sincerity. However, it was real, and it was true.
A few months later, Bull Cyclone brought a black player onto the team. Nineteen sixty-eight: Now that may not sound especially progressive, but it was three more years before Bryant integrated his Alabama squad and a year before any of the major Mississippi teams welcomed blacks. And Kemper County was the deepest part of Dixie.
|Last Updated ( Tuesday, 25 March 2008 )|
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