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There is a magnificent seventeen page story written in Sports Illustrated in 1982 by Frank DE Ford about a Mississippi Junior College coach was not only the toughest coach that ever lived but was also the toughest on football officials as well. This story is the longest sports story ever written in Sports Illustrated’s history , and in my humble opinion was way too short. The gentleman that the story was written about was named Robert Victor Sullivan but was so tough he had two nick names and was commonly known as” Bull Cyclone” in junior college circles in Mississippi and across the south and sometimes even further. His other nickname was” Shotgun” Sullivan which is probably more appropriate in reference to his wide open offences he engineered, but then again, maybe not!
Bull Cyclone was a football official’s nightmare and the reason was is that Bull Cyclone knew more about the rule book than most football officials, especially junior college officials. He knew so much about the rules that General Bob Neyland from the University of Tennessee had Bull Cyclone placed on the football rules committee of the NCAA when, in fact his school wasn’t even a member of the NAAA. He knew a little about offensive football also. When Norm Van Brocklin was hired to coach the Atlanta Falcon’s first team in 1966 he offered Bull Cyclone the job as his offensive coordinator, but Bull Cyclone turned it down telling the Hall of Famer Van Brocklin that “why would I want to go to work for you when I know two or three times more about football than you do right now, I think I will just stay down in Scooba.”
Bull Cyclone was fast friends with Bear Bryant who openly admitted that the Coach from Scooba just down the road from Tuscaloosa, was the badest of the bad when it came to tough coaches. One of Bryant’s survivors of his famous Junction Boy’s boot camp when he took 120 players out in the Texas wilderness and came back in two weeks with only 29 was also a survivor of Bull Cyclone’s first camp a couple of years earlier .The player Joe Roswell compared the two camps by saying that Bryant’s brutal camp was a “walk in the park” compared to Bull Cyclone’s first camp.
One of Bull Cyclone’s weaknesses was that his temper was sometimes uncontrollable. Like the time he charged onto the field between plays and booted the game-ball 30 yards right through the uprights of the visitors goal posts, in objection to an apparent blown call by the officials. Another time he booted the ball into the stands in objection to another official’s call.
As a result of that little bit of hijinks The Mississippi Junior College Association declared that Bull Cyclone must coach from sitting in a chair on the sidelines for the last four games of one season, which he did to fool everybody. He constantly fought with officials but he never argued just to dispute a call. Bull Cyclone only let the officials have it when he thought the officials misinterpreted a rule.
“You stink, Bilbo! He once screamed at Bilbo Mitchell when Bilbo made a call that Bull Cyclone disagreed with. Bilbo just stepped off 15 yards and yelled to Bull Cyclone “How do I smell from here Bull?”
In another game when his team was about to score on Southwest Mississippi the officials called a holding penalty on Bull’s team on a player whose number that wasn’t even in the game. Bull Cyclone was incensed and ran onto the field to get his point across better. Instead the official gave him 15 yards on top of the 15 he had already gotten for the holding infraction. That made it first and 40. Potter the referee said “Coach you gotta go back, but Bull Cyclone kept on coming. Another 15 yards made it first and 55.Potter pleaded “come on coach you gotta go back”, then… first and 70, but as he placed the ball down again Bull went into his familiar place kicking mode and booted the ball off the playing field again, and before they retrieved It from Mr. Smith’s pasture next to the small Scooba, Mississippi football stadium, now… it is first and 85!
By this time the other team was laughing long and hard at the series of events that had just unfolded and never thought for a minute that Bull cyclone would try to get all of the yardage back on one play, but he did by calling “z out, z in” pass play that went for an 100 yard touchdown. Bull Cyclone just pointed at Potter the ref and grumbled something about “how does that smell, Potter?”
Bull Cyclone was not just a maniac roaming the sidelines. He was an innovative and genius football coach that invented drills like scrimmaging in an alligator and snake infested pond close to the Scooba practice field. He would have his linemen block against pine trees and wouldn’t let them quit until they knocked a pine cone loose from the tree. He made his backs turn their leather helmets (Scooba players donned only black leather, sans a face guard, helmets with a skull and cross bones painted on the front of it) around on their head so they couldn’t see, and then they would run through the woods until they ran into a tree so they would instinctively learn to spin out of a tackle and keep going until they hit the next tree.
Bull Cyclone was running spread offences and “no back” backfields and 5 receiver formations 20 years before the NFL “caught on to” the idea. Of all the creative alignments he ran, none was more innovative than the two quarterback set where two quarterbacks lined up under center with two backs lined up behind them. No one knew which QB would end up with the ball but the center who snapped it to the QB that had the best shot for making a good play based on the alignment of the defense. It gets better…Bull Cyclone also ran a formation where his guards and tackles came to the line and reversed their stances so that their butts was facing the bewildered defensive linemen. This formation usually forced the other team to take a timeout, but if it didn’t the oncoming sweep got his pulling linemen an extra step on the defense guaranteeing a successful play
Of all the characters of college football that I have heard about or known, Bull Cyclone is one of my favorites. Bull Cyclone believed there were only two reasons men played football. One was the love of the game the other was fear. He believed that fear was the easier of the two to motivate young men with, and he used it daily to motivate his troops. Bull Cyclone was a unique man, though 6’5” and weighing 250 pounds he was an imposing figure that could impose his will on many just because of his physical presence. He was an ex- marine who fought hand to hand combat against the Japs in the Philippines” knocking many a gook loose with a shovel, pistol and, or a machine gun. He was overheard one day telling one of his quarterback’s “damn you_________ I killed 6 gooks in my fox hole with only a shovel one more little son of a bitch like you won’t matter a bit” Though mean and tough as hell, he was a great family man and also a very good teacher who taught history and anthropology at the small junior college in Scooba. He had a skull on his desk that his players were convinced that it may have belonged to one of his ex- players!
The Sports Illustrated article by Frank De Ford can be found online by goggling BULL CYCLONE SULLIVAN. Also there is a Book written about his life and times called…”Bull Cyclone Sullivan and the Lions of Scooba, Mississippi” This great little book can be found on Amazon.com.