Bull became a star running back for Bishop High School, averaging 25 carries per game. In one bi-district championship game, he carried the ball 44 times. At Baylor, he started 36 of a possible 37 games, going both ways, and played 40 minutes in the one game he did not start.
Bull was the first draft choice of the Bears and the Dallas Texans of the American Football League. "Everybody thought Halas was nuts to draft Bull," says a Bears' official. "In the first place, we were sure he wouldn't leave Texas, so we'd be wasting a draft choice. But George was a little bit on the spot. Nothing much had happened around here [the Bears have not won an NFL championship since 1946], and he felt Bull would be a big help to the team, either on offense or defense. Nobody has ever released any figures, but my guess would be that George didn't exactly impoverish the boy when he signed him."
Getting Bull signed up was a recruiter's nightmare from which Personnel Director George Allen though! He would never awake. Says Allen, who doubles as defensive coach of the Bears: "We were all ready to sign him right after his last game in 1961, but then Baylor got a bid to play in the Gotham bowl, and we couldn't sign him till that was over, and in the meantime Lamar Hunt was down there wining and dining Ronnie and his wife. We figured Hunt might even give them a ranch, because Hunt has ranches he doesn't even know he has."
In a master stroke of cunning, Allen invited Bull's wife, the former Connie Travland, to go to the Gotham Bowl in New York as guest of the Bears. Says Allen proudly: "That's something Lamar Hunt, with all his money, hadn't thought of." After the game, Allen had a taxicab standing by to rush the young couple from the Polo Grounds to La Guardia Airport, where they would emplane for Chicago and be the Bears' guests at the Sunday game with Cleveland. And if Bull wanted to sign a contract right after the game, just to show his appreciation....
But it was snowing in the Midwest that night. Bull, his wife and Allen sat around La Guardia for six hours while one plane after another was canceled from under them, usually after they were already aboard. "Each time they'd wash out a flight," says Allen, "Ronnie would say, 'Well, I guess we'll go back to the hotel now. I'm kinda tired out.' I could just see him getting back to the hotel in time to take a long-distance call from Lamar Hunt. So I'd say, "Let's just try one more flight, and we'll go in and have some ice cream while we wait.' We must have had six quarts of ice cream."
They finally took a plane to Detroit, landed at 3:30 a.m. and flew on to Chicago at 6 a.m. The journey was so confused that the Bulls' bags went on to Seattle, and they sat through the ball game (and the first snow they had ever seen) in their light Texas-style clothes, wrapped in towels and sweatshirts thoughtfully provided by the Bears. "And after all that," says Allen, "wouldn't you know he'd sign? Nope, he wouldn't. Later I went down to Dallas and met him at the airport and talked to him for five hours. That's where he signed. Right at Love Field. That same night Lamar Hunt was waiting for Ronnie at his home."
Bull and Allen now laugh at the memory of Allen's ordeal, all the more so because Bull claims he had always intended to sign with the Bears. "I wanted to play offensive ball," he remembers, "and the Dallas team had Abner Haynes as their running back. He was All-League and in good shape. The Bears had a great runner, too, Willie Galimore. But Willie had been playing a long time, and I figured I'd have a better chance to break in behind him." The effect of Bull's dillydallying on the signing was to drive his price up. He did not maintain a B average in business administration for nothing.
But Bull's pro career began on a sinister note. He and Ernie Davis, the Heisman Award winner from Syracuse, had hung around together in the College All-Star training camp, and both entered the hospital at almost the same time. When Davis' illness was diagnosed as leukemia, Bull was subjected to a week of tests for the same disease. It turned out that he had a virus, and for two more weeks he was not allowed to play football. Late for training, he started the first two regular-season games as a corner man on defense, saving one of the games with an all-or-nothing tackle on the Los Angeles Rams' Dick Bass. "That was the low point of my life," says Bull. "All I wanted to do was run the ball." He got his chance in the third game, against Green Bay. Galimore and his stand-in were injured, and Bull was forced into the lineup, thus proving out his original theory on joining the Bears instead of the Texans.
It took only a few plays for Bull to learn that a backfield man's life in pro ball was real and earnest. "The coaches had been warning me about getting clotheslined on a sky pattern," says Bull. "See, on the sky pattern the halfback skirts the end and goes downfield for a pass. Now you have to avoid that defensive end as you go out because if you don't, he's gonna stick his long arm out and swop you as you go by. It's just like running into a clothesline at full speed. But my head was full of offensive maneuvers, like swerve outs, and I had already had to learn all the defensive signals, and my head was reeling. So I went out for the pass and, as I went around the end, I looked up once and there was Bill Quinlan, and all I saw was fist. I couldn't duck it. He got me right on the chin. I landed flat on my back. I kept telling myself, 'You gotta make it to the sidelines, you gotta make it.' Well, I did make it to the sidelines, and then I passed out cold. The next Tuesday those guys kept running the game film back and forth showing that play over and over and laughing."
After that, Bull played every game and accumulated 694 yards on runs and pass receptions and another 235 yards on nine kickoff returns, good enough to earn him the Rookie of the Year award. He also learned more about pro-type football than he had realized existed back in the fifth grade. He learned, for example, that the bottom of a pileup is a dangerous place for a back, but not for the reasons the spectator might suspect. "It's not the weight of the players that bothers you," he explains. "After that first guy falls on you, most of the rest of them are falling on one another. But in an exhibition game against Baltimore this year, every time I'd be on the bottom of a pileup I'd feel this smash across my shins, and I'd look up, and it would always be the same player kicking me. In another game, against the New York Giants, a linebacker kept using all his strength to twist my legs when I was down. I've even had 'em jab me with their thumbs, bite me, everything you can think of. I've had players pull the hairs off my legs, but that was in college, not in the pros. Or, sometimes, one guy'll be tackling you, and you're sliding along on your back, and another guy will come down on you with his elbow."