The best way to
sum up Bull Cyclone was what a boy named Bernard Rush heard from an oldtimer
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
wasn't just the first black player on the Scooba team; he was the first black
to attend the college. In fact, East Mississippi had lost a lot of federal
funds because President Harbour hadn't let in blacks. Sullivan's action made a
good many people around Scooba mad; Kemper wasn't called Bloody Kemper for
nothing. Not long before, when a company bought some timberland and began
enforcing no-hunting regulations, forest fires were set all through those
lands. One day, one of the big shots in the county offered the coach $500 to
run Harris off.
It would've been
easy, too, because Harris wasn't all that good a player. But Bull Cyclone just
told the man to clear out, and he went on treating Harris like any other
player. Bull Cyclone once said to Tommy Atkins, a player who became a career
Marine, "Tommy, there are two kinds of young men—those you have to kick in
the pants to get their potential and those you have to pat on the back. If you,
as a leader, make a mistake, you've done a great injustice. So be very careful
and decide as accurately as you can whether to kick or to pat."
Away from the
field Bull Cyclone could be a different character altogether. In his classroom,
where he taught sociology and anthropology, he was, his students said,
"like a Sunday school teacher." He got his master's in anthropology
from Mississippi State in '66 and spent more and more time working in that
discipline. He exchanged a lot of correspondence with Senator John Stennis, who
came from down the road in DeKalb, about archeological work in Kemper. A 1968
photo shows Bull Cyclone with three of his students following a dig. In a
caption he's quoted as saying, "The only significant find seemed to be a
complex of single-shouldered projectile points, found in lower-strata kitter
midden. The people who populated this site probably belonged to a Woodland
Culture some 2,000 years ago."
"Yeah, Bull had an old skeleton head and all." Otherwise, he devoted
his spare time to studying the Good Book and watching football film. Praise the
Lord, and pass the ammunition.
At home, for
relaxation, he loved to listen to Stardust. Bull Cyclone could never get enough
of Stardust. His favorite acquisition in all his life was an album he chanced
upon that was entirely Stardust—14 versions of Stardust. His other musical
favorites included Harbor Lights, Somewhere My Love and Easter Parade, which he
enjoyed 12 months a year. His daughters were musical, and often he would cry
out, "You can be a second Lennon Sisters!" Then he would fall asleep
while Bobbie played Stardust for him on the piano.
When he'd first
get home from practice, "we'd just lay back for a while," Gael says.
The family cat was used as litmus paper. If the cat spied Bull Cyclone and
ducked away, the practice hadn't gone well. Sometimes he'd line the family up,
as if he were back at Parris Island, and make them fall in and count off. But
it was fun. Their favorite order was "Get in the car!" because nobody
knew whether he was going to take them for a drive, flying off the bumps in the
road, or just go around in little circles in the driveway. One time, when they
came to a Howard Johnson's, he pulled in and ordered 28 scoops of ice cream,
one of each flavor. "We thought everybody had a family like ours,"
Bobbie says, laughing. His kids still refer to him as Bull.
Royce had to
write this, because it was too emotional for her to say: "Bobbie spent her
closeness with Bull at the piano. Gael would sing to him, and Vic was at the
field house sharing his life there. My time with Bull was spent in nature and
with animals. We would walk to ponds and put out fish traps (we always caught
turtles). We would walk in the woods on Sundays. Bull would help me care for
and learn all about my animals. This is where Bull taught me about God and the
way of mankind and the world."