Bull Cyclone had
been reared nearby—"So far out in the country you could still smell
pu'pwood on his breath," according to his old friend Carlton Fleming.
Sullivan moved his wife, Virginia, and two daughters—another daughter and a son
would come later—onto campus into what was known as The Alamo, a broken-down
dormitory that housed the football players. It was reputed to be the only
three-story public building in the county. The old place was so ramshackle that
the Sullivans had to practice "leak drills." But it was home, and
Christmastime they'd set up the tree out where the boys on the team could share
quarters in The Alamo was crucial because all Bull Cyclone was paid for being
the football coach—and the baseball coach and athletic director—was $3,600 a
year, plus $75 for every game he won. Most of the latter went for gas so he
could go on recruiting trips. Bull Cyclone couldn't do much work over the phone
inasmuch as there were only three in all of Scooba, one at the drugstore, and
one each at the president's house and the president's office.
What Scooba had
above all was homogeneity. The students were all the same: free, white, going
on 21, mostly penniless. They were bound together in a way that most of today's
diverse student bodies couldn't conceive. The girls were only allowed out one
night a week, and on the Sabbath girls and boys alike were "urged" to
attend both Sunday school and church and then, for good measure, to observe a
"quiet hour" from two to three in the afternoon. "At this
time," the school catalog explained, "students are to be in their
rooms. It is suggested that they write their parents during quiet hour and that
they spend some of this time in meditation." The college library had only
4,500 volumes. A football coach could be a gigantic personage in that sort of
And he was. For
amusement Scooba had jig joints and bad girls, hunting and fishing, and, in
season, football. It has always been Dixie's game. Bradberry, who was raised
close by in the little town of Sturgis, says, "If you were a boy and grew
up in Sturgis, Mississippi and didn't play football for the high school, your
daddy didn't get credit at the grocery store."
Said the East
Mississippi catalog the year that Bull Cyclone arrived, "Athletics may be
justified as part of the physical culture program, as a recreational feature
and as disciplinary measure.... We also teach good sportsmanship and
self-denial in habits and attitudes."
Armed with that
mandate, Bull Cyclone got in his old station wagon and, like some preacher or
salesman, hit the highways and byways in search of football players. He had
only one returning from the win-less '49 season. Sullivan ranged far and wide
and, brandishing the GI Bill, even induced some soldiers at various posts to
abandon service for their country to play for Scooba. Tales of such outlanders
arriving on motorsickles can still be heard. "They'd put 'em in jail for
tearing up, and then they'd tear up the jail," Fleming recalls with a
guffaw. But on his field, Bull Cyclone, who peaked out at around 6'5" and
285 pounds, brooked no backtalk.
His first team
assembled, coach Sullivan called up and got a game with Little Rock J.C. to
open the season. And what was Little Rock J.C.? Only the '49 winner of the
Junior Rose Bowl, the junior-college champion of America. Bull Cyclone was
scared of no one, and he would prove it.
When the Scooba
team arrived in Little Rock, it was told to practice at the stadium itself.
Bull Cyclone, who was especially attuned to spies, suspected that some would be
hidden in the stands, so he had his players run all sorts of goofy plays. After
a while, Bull Cyclone called over his manager. Managers were very important to
Bull Cyclone, and he expected almost as much of them as he did of his
quarterbacks. "The trouble with being a manager for my father," recalls
Bobbie, his oldest daughter, "is that he assumed a manager would know what
he wanted before he asked." Bull Cyclone instructed this first manager to
play dumb and to go over to the Little Rock J.C. locker room and tell the coach
that Scooba had forgotten to bring kicking tees. He then was to ask whether he
could borrow some. Sure enough, the manager saw that the Little Rock coach was
drawing all the ridiculous East Mississippi plays on a blackboard for his
Bull Cyclone was
pretty sure, then, that his first game as a head coach would be "like
taking candy from a baby." One of his major tenets was to strike fast with
surprise. He knew Little Rock wouldn't know what hit it.
Back in Scooba
that night, the postmistress, who had a good radio, picked up the game all the
way from Little Rock. Bull Cyclone had promised that he would call in the
outcome to the phone at the president's house, but during the game the lady
with the radio started going around town giving everybody updates. Pretty soon
a lot of townspeople were congregated around her radio in the Sullivans'
apartment at The Alamo, listening to the game. This was the biggest thing that
had ever happened to Scooba, and Bull Cyclone had only just come to town.