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For all the great quarterbacks Bull Cyclone had—at one stretch four in a row went on to star at four-year colleges—the only uniform number he ever retired was 31. It belonged to a halfback named Clyde Pierce, who was always known as Baby Doll Pierce and always described as "Baby Doll Pierce, 124 pounds, soaking wet, from West Point, Miss." Bull Cyclone even had a reel of film made up just of Baby Doll to show the big guys what tough really was. One time Baby Doll got hurt, and as the call went out for a stretcher, Bull Cyclone just scooped up the limp little form and carried Baby Doll off the field in his massive arms.
Though quarterbacks enjoyed an exalted status in Bull Cyclone's cosmos, they suffered much more for their sins than other players. Smith was brought to Scooba two weeks before school opened in 1962, and he moved in with the Sullivans. As he studied the offense with Bull Cyclone, he became a member of the family. But in the first quarter of his opening game, after he had marched Scooba to a touchdown, he muffed the two-point conversion pass attempt. Smith turned around to find Bull Cyclone running at him, screaming, "You traitor, Smith! You're a traitor!" Smith couldn't believe what had come over the man. "I was fixin' to go over the hill right then," he says.
Smith stayed, however, and Scooba went on to qualify for something known as the Magnolia Bowl. Shortly before that game, Bull Cyclone saw quarterback Billy Wade of the Chicago Bears play a game on TV with tiny shoulder pads, and he figured Smith would profit from the same gear. Only Sullivan didn't have any tiny pads, so he asked Smith if he'd go pad-less. Smith quickly agreed. "You must understand, he had enough effect on me that I wouldn't even question him when he asked me to play without shoulder pads," Smith says. Bull Cyclone didn't let the rest of the players know what was up until just before the game. "Fellows," he said. "Lester's not going to wear any shoulder pads tonight." Long pause to let that sink in. "And...he...better...not...get...hit." Smith didn't, either, except on two occasions when he lost his head, checked off the coach's plays and ran the ball on sneaks.
Although Scooba won and Smith escaped the coach's wrath, Bull Cyclone usually went berserk when a quarterback of his risked getting tackled. A perfect game wasn't a quarterback completing every pass. A perfect game was a quarterback not having his star jersey touched. The first thing Bull Cyclone taught any quarterback candidate wasn't how to throw a complete pass but how to throw an incomplete one. Bradberry well remembers the time Bull Cyclone ripped off his jersey and another time when he yanked off his helmet and chucked it clear into Mr. Smith's pasture, to illustrate how you threw a ball away with proficiency.
Once that art was mastered, Bull Cyclone's quarterbacks got down to completing passes. He required them to come out an hour before practice and half an hour before games and throw to each other "on a knee"—that is, kneeling—a drill that improves form and increases arm strength. Buckner threw so many passes that, for a while, he had to keep his arm in a sling when off the field. Over and over the quarterbacks would work on the same precise patterns, learning to release the ball before the receiver broke. And if a quarterback did anything incorrectly—or worse, stupidly—a terrible wrath was visited upon him. "Get out of my—huddle! Get out of my—life!" Sullivan would bellow. The quarterbacks were different, and everybody knew it. Even now, the quarterbacks talk about Bull Cyclone in a more intimate way than do the other players. The quarterbacks were really the only ones who were back with him, alone, on Okinawa.
Bradberry says the most memorable moment of his life came in the first game of his second season. To this point, he'd never been anything but a "—idiot" who did what he was told off the index cards. Suddenly, before one play, while standing on the sideline, Bull Cyclone turned to him and said, "Well, what do you think?" Bradberry's knees turned to jelly. He had been ordained. The rest of the season he was a junior partner, and, afterward, Bull Cyclone highly recommended him to Delta State. He was awarded a scholarship, and he broke the records Buckner had set there.
But Buckner was undoubtedly Bull Cyclone's best quarterback. He was the one who almost got everything for Coach. With his little itty-bitty boys, only twice did Bull Cyclone have enough to win it all. The last time was in '69. Looking forward to that season, he told Virginia, "It's going to be like taking candy from a baby." To others, more worldly than she, he advised that he was "holding a royal flush." The other time he could have won a championship was in '64, Buckner's final season.
In '63, when Buckner was a freshman, Scooba went 10-1-1 and was ranked seventh in the national J.C. rankings although, wouldn't you know it, Pearl River still won the conference. But with Buckner back in '64, Scooba was even more formidable, winning its first eight games and climbing all the way to No. 3 in the country. Scooba was a lock to be invited to the Junior Rose Bowl if it kept winning. Scooba was going to come out of nowhere and show California football that Scooba was 15 to 20 years ahead of its time. Buckner was already a J.C. All-America. He had thrown for 39 touchdowns and almost 5,000 yards in 20 games. Further, he was Mr. Everything: president of the student body, head of the local branch of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Scooba's ninth opponent was Jones Junior College, the top defensive team in the conference. With a 6-1 record, Jones had lost only to Pearl River, by 6-0. It was homecoming at Scooba, and the festive crowd of 4,000 overflowed the stands, whose normal capacity was 3,000. Buckner didn't disappoint anyone, either. On the game's first offensive series, second-and-one on his own 40, he called an audible and struck with a touchdown pass to George Belvin. Sixty yards, just like that, for his 40th TD toss. Only 2:11 gone, and Scooba was up by seven. On to Pasadena!
Not only that, but Scooba held Jones and got the ball right back. Buckner had had such an outstanding career that all week Mississippi had been buzzing with rumors that Jones was out to get Buckner. However, Bull Cyclone had his charges ready. He put them through the toughest week of practices any of them had ever experienced. One day, Bull Cyclone even lashed out at Buckner, and pulled him from the starting lineup. Benching the greatest quarterback in junior-college ball was ludicrous, of course, but Bull Cyclone was bringing everything to a boil. "That man had a gift to know," Buckner says now.