Never have I been so moved by a story as I was by Frank Deford's The Toughest Coach There Ever Was (April 30) about Bob (Bull) (Cyclone) Sullivan of East Mississippi Junior College. Deford has long been my favorite SPORTS ILLUSTRATED writer, and the book he wrote about his remarkable daughter Alex proved to me that he is that rare person who has a true grasp of life, its joys and tragedies. To be able to translate that onto paper is a monumental gift—one I envy.
Bull Cyclone's life story was particularly interesting to me because I had a high school football coach who was extremely tough and had similar characteristics. I've no idea where my former coach is now, but I still often think of him and am thankful for the lessons he taught me. Bull Cyclone's life ended tragically, but that ending led to a story that enriched me and, I'm sure, many other readers. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has never had a better story. Deford is a master, and Bull Cyclone was a giant among men.
The Toughest Coach There Ever Was must rank among the finest pieces of sports journalism ever. The structure, compassion and imagery combined to create an amazing portrait of a man I "surely never heard of," but one who I'm just as sure will now become a permanent fixture in my memory.
Next week this essay will form the nucleus of my teaching in my high school English classes. I feel compelled to pass it along so others might be touched by coach Sullivan and the magnificence of Frank Deford's writing. There are many lessons to be learned from Sullivan's life and death, but for me the most powerful is the haunting image of him standing at the foot of his injured star's hospital bed, "bereft of voice and dreams." I'm reminded of the other envious Stumpy Harbours of this world, who contrive to deny great men their proper destiny.
I've never written to a magazine before, but then I've never before read a story like The Toughest Coach There Ever Was. I commend Frank Deford and photographer Brian Lanker on their outstanding work.
As a youngster growing up in Shuqualak (10 miles north of Scooba), I spent my Saturday nights in the fall watching Bull Sullivan's Scooba Lions do battle. Frank Deford's characterization of coach Sullivan was accurate and, if anything, understated. My most vivid memory of Bull in action was the night a fight broke out on the field during a game. I remember seeing Bull charge ahead, look back over his shoulder and, like a general leading his army, command his team forward with a wave of his arm. Needless to say, the officials had a problem restoring order that night.
As my old high school coach, Joe Bradshaw, said of Sullivan, "Everything you hear is true."
JERRY A. HAYES
I worked for Dobie Holden as student manager in 1948 at Pearl River Junior College in Poplarville, Miss. Frank Deford did a magnificent job of conjuring up the atmosphere of the Mississippi junior college circuit of that era. The story is an excellent piece of writing; I, too, wanted to cry at the end.
ROBERT F. WARE JR.
Like Bull Sullivan's friends and players, I have no doubt that Sullivan died of a broken heart. Football is that type of game—all-consuming. Only those who've played football know how it can mold your values, strengthen your character and shape your life.
I do hope, however, that an old school coach of mine missed Frank Deford's article. He was a man who, in order to teach his running backs to stay low when they came through the line, would set up a rope 36 inches off the ground. Then, handing a back the ball, he would send him beneath the rope only to be greeted on the other side by two teammates who had been instructed to make the back's arrival painful. To be sure, it was. My old coach certainly could do without any new ideas on how to make his players tough, and I only thank God that there were no pine trees anywhere near our practice field.