He conjured them
up at all waking hours. Around the house, plays would be sketched on
newspapers, napkins, books, calendars; they were found on church programs and
high school prom dance cards. One morning Bobbie discovered that her father had
absentmindedly scribbled plays all over the margins of a term paper she was
turning in that day.
being awakened in his room in The Alamo at 3 a.m. by Little Vic. Instructing
Box to follow, the boy took him downstairs to the Sullivan apartment and then
right into his parents' bedroom. Virginia was sound asleep in her half of the
bed. But Bull Cyclone was sitting up next to her, running a projector, staring
at films on the far wall. He ran a play and asked Box if he thought a new
variation involving him would work. Flabbergasted, Box said, "Yes sir, I
don't see why not."
Bull Cyclone said. "Go back to bed." He promptly began to diagram the
play on an index card. He usually had all his special plays for that week's
game designed by Monday.
would take the basic stuff he planned to use and make a deck of plays that he
flipped through on the sidelines. Says Bradberry, "I can see him now,
wiping the blood off my face with one hand, shuffling through his deck with the
other to find me the play he wanted." Purists maintain that one quarterback
must be deputized to be in charge of a team, but if Bull Cyclone didn't believe
he had an outstanding player, he'd use two, or even three quarterbacks during a
game, alternating these paragons of leadership after each play. And it worked
For example, as a
freshman Bradberry alternated with a string bean named Ricky Garner. In one
game, Bull Cyclone got furious with Bradberry for citing some wrong information
about a linebacker and yanked him. "You little sonofabitch," he
screamed, "don't you ever open your mouth again. The only way you'll ever
take another snap for me is if Garner breaks both his legs." But, out of
the blue, late in the first quarter, Bull Cyclone summoned Bradberry from the
bench, riffled through the deck and dispatched him to run one play. It wasn't
exactly a vote of confidence, for the call was a rare halfback sweep, in which
the quarterback was supposed to block. Bradberry ran the play and, on another
possession midway through the second quarter. Bull Cyclone sent him back in to
run the same punishing sweep.
before the half ended, the coach yelled for Bradberry again, shuffled through
his deck and, like a magician, pulled out a card and showed it to the
quarterback. "See this," Bull Cyclone said. "Hit the tight end, and
it'll be a—touchdown."
story, Bradberry merely smiles, then shrugs and says, "And hey..." and
raises his arms in the TD salute.
Bull Cyclone, so he let his assistant handle that. Of course, from carefully
studying the passing game, he became an expert at pass defense. Scooba played
man-to-man and stunted constantly. "Forty-four red dog" was his
favorite defensive alignment: four-man line, four others up close, blitz.
Against running attacks, which were what he usually faced, Sullivan's basic
concept—again presaging the future—was to have his linemen "mess things
up" so that the linebackers could dash up and make jarring tackles. A wiry
little demon of a linebacker named Bob Wilson is reputed to have made as many
as 25 stops in a game, 150 in one season.
though, Bull Cyclone would spend almost all of his time working on
passing—7-on-8—exiling the interior linemen to the sidelines, where they could
get at it among themselves all day. Nowadays, major schools have so many
assistants that a head football coach primarily has to be an administrator just
to keep practices running effectively. But Bull Cyclone was always in the midst
of things, and when he ran his beloved passing drills, he'd move right along
with the team. Most coaches stand in one spot and shout "bring it
back." Bull Cyclone's players would practice up and down the field,
simulating a real drive. No one was allowed to disturb this routine, and, of
course, no outsiders were present, lest they be shot as spies.
One thing Bull
Cyclone had going for him was that few other teams concentrated on the pass—and
none in all of America as much as he—so that opponents weren't geared to
stopping a promiscuous aerial game. On the other hand, Scooba was invariably
the runt of the litter. The Mississippi Junior College Conference had 15 teams
then, and the rules limited recruiting to certain areas. Bull Cyclone, like
Bradberry today, was left with slim pickings in his six backwoods counties. Big
as he was himself, Bull Cyclone came to admire the tiny farmers' sons he had to
make do with—"little itty-bitty boys," says Box, who played fullback at
160 pounds. Smith was a 150-pound quarterback, and Garner didn't weigh even
that much. Wilson, the best linebacker Scooba ever had, barely went 135. You've
heard of baseball players who can't hit their weight. The year Wilson
supposedly made 150 tackles he might have been the only college football player
in history to tackle more than his weight.